By pushing proposals to make it harder for millions of Americans to vote, lawmakers in state capitals across the nation look as if they're yearning for the bad old days when the only people who could vote were white guys with money and property.

Proponents of draconian voter-identification proposals won't be able to turn back the clock that far.

Make no mistake, though: The burgeoning movement in numerous states including Pennsylvania to require government-issued photo ID at the polls will hurt mostly poor, minority and elderly voters.

Swing-state Missouri could ratchet up the stakes even further in this presidential year if its citizens decide in a referendum to make their state the first requiring proof of citizenship to enter the polls.

Disproportionately, such voter ID rules will mean that as many as 21 million Americans could be denied their legal right to vote simply because they do not have the proper papers. And who are the voters expected to have the

least

trouble producing the right documents? They tend to be white, middle-age and well-off.

Maybe the tri-corner hat will come back in style, too - just like in colonial times.

Not only are these regulations out of step with the times, they're also wildly out of sync with the basic concept of democracy and government by the people, for the people.

That's why Gov. Rendell vetoed a photo-ID voting bill in Harrisburg earlier in his tenure. The same fate should befall a similar proposal from state Rep. Daryl D. Metcalfe (R., Butler) in the wake of the recent U.S. Supreme Court approval of Indiana's toughest-in-the-nation voter ID law. That the Constitution allows such rules doesn't mean a policy that could disenfranchise millions is a good idea.

Why should anyone oppose requiring voters to prove who they are and whether they meet the fundamental criteria for the franchise, that of being a U.S. citizen? Because that is a nonissue: Voters already attest to their eligibility when they sign up to vote. Across two centuries of using registration procedures that rely on reasonable methods of documenting voters, there has been no significant problem with in-person voter impersonation. That hasn't changed because of 9/11 concerns and, certainly, the nation's failure to come to grips with its immigration problem cannot be remedied by erecting barriers before legal voters.

As Americans in this presidential election year turn out to vote in numbers rarely seen, this is no time to enact modern-day equivalents of the poll tax.