A reader of Rick Hasen’s Election Law Blog sent this in and it’s fascinating in light of the Pennsylvania voting restrictions that in my opinion were specifically and carefully designed to target Philadelphia voters. Any emphasis in a particular portion of the piece is mine, and was not in the original:
Judge Simpson relies heavily on Paterson v. Barlow, 60 Pa. 54, an 1869 case, and on Winston, a 1914 case that adopted Paterson’s standard. The tagline that everyone remembers from Paterson is its “plain, palpable, and clear abuse” standard of review of registration laws.
What people don’t know is that the opinion settling on that standard is a display of xenophobia and agrarian prejudice as startling as any you’ll find in an American reported decision.
At issue in Paterson was a law patently designed to disenfranchise Philadelphians; among other things, it struck anyone who boarded at a hotel, tavern or sailors’ boarding house from the rolls, and only let them back in if they could supply affidavits from two homeowners in their voting district.
But better yet, that rule, on the face of the statute, only applied to Philadelphia, along with a host of others. The court held that this differential treatment between Philadelphia and the rest of the state was constitutional because Philadelphians, simply, were bad people:
”Where population greatly abounds vice and virtue have their greatest extremes. A simple rural population needs no night police, and no lock-up. Rogues and strumpets do not nightly traverse the deserted highways of the farmer. Low inns, restaurants, sailors’ boarding-houses, and houses of ill fame do not abound in rural precincts, ready to pour out on election day their pestilent hordes of imported bullies and vagabonds, and to cast them multiplied upon the polls as voters. In large cities such things exist, and its proper population therefore needs greater protection, and local legislation must come to their relief. The freedom and equality of the ballot-box must be protected from the local causes which mar and destroy a free and equal election.” 60 Pa. at 78.
The court then goes on to speculate that without disenfranchising people who stay at hotels, the good householders of Philadelphia could go to the polls only to end up dead:
”How then can the freedom and equality of election be secured in a great city if from the force of local circumstances the places of the real electors are usurped, if the ballot-box can be stuffed with impunity, or if suffrage can be exercised only at the risk of violence or life?”
This passage is especially colorful, with its imagery of urban voters “floating upon the rivers” like some sort of vermin or pestilential insect:
“Where the population of a locality is constantly changing, and men are often unknown to their next-door neighbors; where a large number is floating upon the rivers and the sea, going and returning and incapable of identification; where low inns, restaurants and boarding-houses constantly afford the means of fraudulent additions to the lists of voters, what rule of sound reason or of constitutional law forbids the legislature from providing a means to distinguish the honest people of Philadelphia from the rogues and vagabonds who would usurp their places and rob them of their rights? I cannot understand the reasoning which would deny to the legislature this essential power to define the evidence which is necessary to distinguish the false from the true.”
Here is a link to an amicus brief submitted by a Tea Party member supporting the restrictions on voting. In it, the Tea Party person argues basically the same thing: people in Philadelphia are just bad people.