The 2020 election cycle was an exhausting and stressful time for those who pay attention to politics. Many are ready to start thinking about the 2022 election which features a tasty spread of open races for both governor and comptroller. Before digging into those main courses, however, the residents of Carroll’s eight municipalities will enjoy an appetizer of elections of new town leaders this spring.
Throughout May, residents of Hampstead, Manchester, Mount Airy, New Windsor, Sykesville, Taneytown, Union Bridge, and Westminster, will elect council members, and in half of these towns, they will select the mayor. If you live in the city of Westminster or one of these towns, these elected officials make decisions that affect your water and sewer, local taxes, roads, zoning, and public safety.
Any registered voter who lives within town limits is eligible to vote in these elections. There is not a separate voter registration for these races, and none of Carroll’s municipal elections have a primary. Despite this, most of these town elections see dismal voter turnout. In 2017, Union Bridge had 85 voters participate in its election. In Hampstead’s 2015 Town Council race, the winning candidate beat the runner-up by a mere four votes. For municipal races in Carroll, a voter turnout of 20% is usually worth celebrating. In 2019, 5.7% of Westminster’s voters came to the polls for its city election. Compare that to the 80.6% of eligible voters who recently voted in Carroll County’s 2020 general election and it is obvious that most voters completely ignore their hometown elections.
The only thing more disappointing than the low voter turnout is the lack of candidates in these races. In some towns, the incumbents run without a single challenger, as was the case in Manchester in both 2017 and 2019.
Every one of these towns need smart and eager individuals to run for office. You or someone you know might be the perfect candidate to run for local office. There is no standard template for the ideal candidate. Viable candidates can come from a variety of backgrounds: a parent who is active in the parent and teacher association; a new retiree looking to be more involved in his or her community; a law enforcement officer; a local sports recreation league coach; a small business owner; a local school teacher, a retired member of the military; a leader in a local civic or service organization; or, a member of a town’s Planning and Zoning or Zoning Appeals Board.
There will be three council seats on the ballot in Hampstead, Manchester, Taneytown, and Union Bridge. In Mt. Airy, New Windsor, and Westminster, two council member seats and the position of mayor will be on the bill of fare. The Sykesville special includes three council member seats and mayor. For some of these elections, incumbents have already started to announce his or her intention to seek re-election such as Taneytown Council members Joe Vigliotti and Judith Fuller. In Westminster, Mayor Joe Dominick has already announced that he will not be seeking re-election, leaving an open race for mayor in Carroll’s largest city.
How do you know whether you live within town limits and are therefore eligible to vote and possibly run? Individuals often think they live within town or city limits because they have a town or city address. However, that is not always the case. The easiest way to find out is by visiting voterservices.elections.maryland.gov/votersearch, and enter in your name, date of birth, and ZIP code. Under the “My Voting Districts” banner, look for “MUNICIPAL DISTRICTS” (it will be right above “SENATORIAL DISTRICTS”). If that line is there, it will say HA1 (Hampstead) or W01 (Westminster) for example. If that line is not listed, you do not live within the town or city limits.
Folks interested in running should call their town or visit their town’s website to learn the election date, the candidate filing deadline, the minimum age requirement, and the length of time the candidate needs to have lived in town. Although all of the municipal races are nonpartisan, meaning each candidate’s party affiliation is not revealed on the ballot, local partisan organizations are available to help candidates by providing knowledge, support, and guidance. For registered Democrats, the Carroll County Democratic Central Committee and for registered Republicans, the Carroll Republican Victory organization, can offer assistance to potential candidates.
Trash removal, snow plowing, pothole repairs, and permits to build sheds are not as mouthwatering as Middle East peace accords or Second Amendment rights, but these are exactly the kind of cuisines served to you by those individuals you elect to municipal office. As Pericles said, “Just because you do not take an interest in politics doesn’t mean politics won’t take an interest in you.”
Christopher Tomlinson, third vice chairman of the Maryland Republican Party, writes from Melrose. Find him on Facebook at ColumnistChrisTomlinson or email him at CCTtomlinson@gmail.com.