Delco election official vows to defy ID law

Posted: July 26, 2012

Even as the fate of Pennsylvania's new voter-identification law plays out in a Harrisburg courtroom, an election official in Delaware County is vowing not to enforce it.

Christopher L. Broach, a Democratic inspector of elections in the tiny borough of Colwyn, said he would not ask voters to prove who they are on Election Day.

"To ask me to enforce something that violates civil rights is ludicrous and absolutely something I am not willing to do," Broach said Thursday in an interview.

An IT consultant, Broach was elected inspector of elections but has recently acted as judge of elections to fill a vacancy. He called the law a ploy by the Republican-controlled legislature, "a wholly unethical decision that violated civil rights for the sake of getting Mitt Romney elected."

Though Broach is the only official publicly taking such a stance, Philadelphia's nonpartisan Committee of Seventy received a call from a Pittsburgh poll worker saying he, too, plans not to demand photo ID from voters he knows. The law has set off defiant talk among voters as well, with a few vowing to vote without the required forms of photo ID.

"If I get turned away from the polling place," said Democrat Jean Yetter, 65, of East Stroudsburg, "I will never vote again."

The talk isn't all from Democrats. In Radnor Township, Jane Golas, a Republican inspector of elections, said she wondered how she could ask anyone for identification when she will have to count ballots of absentee voters who are not held to the same standards.

"This is a move by people to suppress the vote in the city of Philadelphia," Golas said. "We never had an issue with people coming in to fraudulently vote."

Marcel L. Groen, the longtime leader of Montgomery County Democrats, said in an e-mail, "I have heard from some voters that they will not provide ID when requested. It is not widespread at this point.

"More importantly, a number of election officials indicated that in the primary, many people were upset about showing ID. Then, it was only optional. There are concerns about long lines and frayed tempers."

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and other groups are in Commonwealth Court asking a judge to take the law off the books before the Nov. 6 election. They contend the law could disenfranchise as many as one million voters. The state's lawyers counter that the law is not burdensome, that having a photo ID is part of modern life, and that voters are being given ample time and information in order to comply.

Voters who show up at the polls without photo ID will be handed a provisional ballot. That means their vote can count - but only if they bring the required ID to officials within six days.

Any election official who thwarts the law could face consequences. Though a Democrat and a fierce critic of the ID law, City Commissioner Stephanie Singer, who heads Philadelphia's elections office, has said she would follow the law and provide appropriate training to all judges of elections and majority and minority inspectors who staff polling places.

As for Broach's vow?

"I am disappointed that an elected official will make a comment that he will not uphold the law that is part of his duties," said Ron Ruman, spokesman for the Department of State. "We all have laws we don't like, but we can't pick and choose those we are going to follow."

Broach, an Army veteran and father of eight, said he realized he could face fines or prison if found guilty of thwarting the law as an election official. His mind is made up.

"Rosa Parks made the same decision," he said.

This is not the first time some Pennsylvanians have had to show proof. In 2008, voters new to a precinct had to show identification before they could vote there for the first time.

"What has changed now is that they have to ask everybody for it," said Frank Catania, solicitor for Delaware County.

And that riles some voters.

At 88 years old, Charles Governor Tompkins of North Philadelphia says he has voted in every election since 1944.

Tompkins says he is a World War II Navy veteran, a grandson of a slave - and a voter who will not show photo ID come Election Day.

"This is a thing like they done to the German people - stealing their pearls. Before they know, they got rid of every one of them," he said in an interview. "If they are going to try to take my one little pearl from me, I am going to raise all the hell I can."

Tompkins grew up hearing stories of his uncles paying the poll tax in South Carolina and still being barred from voting. "This is a discriminating thing," he said.

Yetter, the East Stroudsburg Democrat, was so angry about the law that her name is one of more than 7,000 on an online petition against it. In an interview, she said she would try to vote Nov. 6 with two pieces of ID that do not pass muster under the new law - an expired passport and a driver's license in her maiden name, which she stopped using about a year ago, after a divorce.

"I don't want to get a new license because of that. But if I go over to vote, they're going to be looking for Jean Yetter and my license will say Jean Peck," she said. "I don't know if they'll accept it. It's just ridiculous."


Contact Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149, mschaefer@phillynews.com or @MariSchaefer on Twitter.

Inquirer staff writer Jeremy Roebuck contributed to this article.

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