Carroll voters from both major parties will head for the polls today, where Democrats will find only a few contested races, but Republicans will pare down crowded fields to decide whether conservatives or moderates should represent the GOP in November's general election.
Republicans, who make up about 60 percent of the county's registered voters, will choose from 10 candidates vying for three county commissioner seats.
South Carroll Republicans will also choose from six candidates to represent a newly created delegate district in South Carroll. Both races have featured myriad personal attacks, delivered in print advertisements and at public forums.
"I'm excited for it to be over," said Robert Wolfing, chairman of the county's Republican State Central Committee. "We're ready to get beyond it and get on with the general elections. It's always a bit difficult to watch your candidates go after each other, but that's the primary process."
County Democrats face fewer choices. The party's three commissioner candidates are assured spots on the general election ballot, while the races for nominations in delegate districts 4B and 9B feature two candidates each.
Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m. County election officials say they would be happy with 50 percent turnout among the county's 85,508 voters, though only 30.4 percent turned out in the 1998 primary, which featured a similarly large and competitive field of commissioner candidates.
Some 70,000 voters will see a different combination of choices than in the past because of legislative redistricting implemented this year. The biggest change will see voters in Sykesville, Eldersburg and the rest of South Carroll selecting their own state delegate for the first time instead of voting for three at-large candidates. Some voters on the county's western side will be voting in District 4 instead of District 5.
Despite the changes, county election officials say they have not fielded many questions about redistricting.
"I think the public stayed very aware of the process," said Pat Matsko, supervisor of elections for the county.
The commissioner race has received the most attention countywide, with three Republican incumbents facing aggressive challenges from an array of experienced politicians and community activists.
One crowded race
The candidates have sparred through six forums, including one in Westminster broadcast on WTTR radio last night and one before a standing-room-only crowd in Eldersburg on Thursday.
Several challengers have run on reform platforms, saying the current board has allowed residential growth to overwhelm county schools, roads and water capacity and failed to work well with state officials.
Incumbent Julia Walsh Gouge has cast her lot with the reformers, saying she can't slow growth or forge better relations with the state as long as she's outvoted by fellow incumbents Robin Bartlett Frazier and Donald I. Dell.
Longtime newspaper editor and columnist Dean Minnich and Union Bridge Mayor Perry Jones have joined her on the party's moderate side.
Frazier, seeking a second term, has defended the board's record, saying the commissioners have controlled growth and built new schools where they could, while refusing to let Gov. Parris N. Glendening dictate local land-use decisions.
Three-term incumbent Dell has said the commissioners should slow residential growth, but he has also generally defended the current board and told voters that if they re-elect him, they'll get more of the same.
Woodbine activist Ed Primoff has taken the most conservative stance, saying the new board must fight Glendening's Smart Growth policies, which Primoff said would impose high-density, low-cost housing and mass transit on Carroll's municipalities.
Other candidates have accused Primoff of using such rhetoric as a boogeyman to rouse conservative voters.
Planning commission member David Brauning has also presented himself as a conservative alternative, though he has not criticized the current board publicly. Brauning has said the county should make its policy free from state control but has also said the commissioners should consider slowing growth, especially in South Carroll.
Other Republican candidates for county commissioner are George A. Butler, Henry G. Griese IV and Benjamin E. Perricone. The Democratic candidates are Jeannie Nichols, Neil Ridgely and Betty L. Smith. Vince DePalmer is running as an independent.
New delegate district
State officials created the new delegate district in South Carroll to accommodate the area's burgeoning population and increasingly distinct identity. Despite a crowded field, the delegate race has not centered on any particular issue and has featured only one public forum.
Republican candidates include school board President Susan Krebs and former commissioner Richard T. Yates, longtime party activists Larry Helminiak and Robert L. Tabler, both of Sykesville, Eldersburg attorney Michael D. Zimmer and Sykesville systems analyst Michael R. Guerin.
Attorney Kenneth Holniker and union leader Anita Lombardi Riley, both of Eldersburg, are competing for the Democratic delegate nomination.
In the 4th Senate District, which includes more than 30,000 voters from western Carroll, incumbent Republican Timothy Ferguson has waged a fierce battle with Del. David R. Brinkley and Frederick County Commissioner David P. Gray.
Ferguson, who has spent about $80,000 on the campaign since November, and Brinkley, who has spent about $40,000 during the same period, are both claiming to be staunchly against gun control and abortion rights and have flooded area newspapers with campaign advertisements decrying each other's voting records in the legislature.
Gray has raised only about $2,000 but has also run advertisements in the past several days.
In other primaries, seven candidates are seeking three seats on the school board, but only one will be eliminated in today's nonpartisan primary. Westminster Democrats Robert Lubitz and Thomas Morrison are competing to oppose incumbent Republican Donald B. Elliott in the District 4B delegate race, covering the western part of the county.
Four Republicans are competing to serve as register of wills. Four, including three incumbents, are also running for three spots as judges for the Orphans' Court.
Sun staff writer Mary Gail Hare contributed to this article.