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The conservative case against voter ID laws

The best case against the recent spate of GOP-sponsored voter ID photo laws disenfranchising voters can be traced back to two of the most revered Republicans in recent history, President Ronald Reagan and Chief Justice Warren Burger, a Richard Nixon appointee to the Supreme Court.

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Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old woman who sued Pennsylvania over the state's voter identification law, is seen outside her apartment in Philadelphia Aug. 9. Op-ed contributor Nicolaus Mills says 'Pennsylvania’s new voter ID law raises the long-term question of how we want the winning and losing parties in 2012 to view each other after the election. Do we want them willing to work together or torn by recrimination?'

Marco Calderon/ACLU/Handout/Reuters

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Pennsylvania’s Republican-sponsored law requiring voters to have a government-issued photo ID has passed its first legal test Aug. 15, when a judge upheld the law. While the state Supreme Court is set to hear the case in September, many Democrats in the state – and beyond – are worried.

They are right to be. Their supporters are the ones most likely to be driven from the polls by the new voter ID photo laws that Republicans have passed in Pennsylvania and several other states over the past few years.

The irony is that the best case against the new voter ID photo laws can be traced back to the thinking of two of the most revered Republicans in recent history, President Ronald Reagan and Chief Justice Warren Burger, a Richard Nixon appointee to the Supreme Court.

The relevance of Reagan’s and Burger’s thinking becomes clear when we examine the Pennsylvania law. On the surface, the law seems neutral, even beneficial in its purported aim to prevent voter fraud. But the law is anything but neutral in the effect it will have on 9.2 percent of Pennsylvania’s eligible voters – 758,000 in all – who don’t have a photo ID from the state’s Department of Transportation.

The injustice the law claims it would remedy, voter impersonation at the polls, is, for all intents and purposes, nonexistent in Pennsylvania and throughout the country, as a recent Carnegie-Knight study showed. Very real, on the other hand, is the fact that those who lack a state-issued drivers license or other ID are typically minorities, the poor, and the elderly, who often don’t own cars.

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