As Carroll County prepares to head to the polls Tuesday, some voters, in fact many more than usual, have gotten a head start.
More than 6,000 county residents have requested absentee ballots for the general election - nearly three times the number of people who submitted absentee votes in the 2002 gubernatorial election, according to Patricia K. Matsko, Carroll elections director.
"I kept thinking there was going to be a large number of absentees, indicated by a lot of people interested in the governor and U.S. Senate race," Matsko said. "It's going to take a long time just to open 6,000 ballots."
Prompted by a call from Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and other officials, Maryland voters have requested more than 175,000 absentee ballots, according to the state's director of voter registration.
The deadline for requesting absentee ballots by mail has passed, and the deadline to submit an absentee ballot in person is before 8 p.m. on Tuesday at the Carroll County Board of Elections office.With the influx of absentee ballots, County Attorney Kimberly A. Millender said her office has fielded more and more questions about a county referendum on the ballot.
If the code home rule referendum passes, Carroll's government structure would be retained but the commissioners would no longer require General Assembly approval to enact most local laws, as they do now.
"With the election around the corner, people are starting to figure out what's on the ballot," Millender said.
In addition to the code home rule referendum, voters will weigh in on contested races for the county board of commissioners, board of education, the state House of Delegates and Senate, the clerk of the circuit court and the register of wills.
At 81,Nimrod Davis Jr. is running for office for the first time, as the Democratic candidate for clerk of the Circuit Court. His GOP opponent, Donald Sealing II, defeated five other candidates in the Republican primary. Both Davis and Sealing are South Carroll residents.
"Larry Shipley's done an excellent job," Davis said of the current clerk. "He's retiring, so I thought I'd make a shot at it, to try to do the same things he's done. Keep the budget the same. Keep things on the same keel."
Sealing, 56, has more court experience than Davis. Currently a legal assistant with an Ellicott City law firm, Sealing has worked as a deputy clerk and a jury commissioner for Carroll's Circuit Court.
"I have all the experience in the clerk's office, with the exception of being a clerk," Sealing said.
After serving one term, Republican Paul G. Zimmermann is looking for four more years as the county's register of wills. He said his training as a lawyer helps him interpret the wills and work with the family attorneys.
"It's a great job," Zimmermann, 53, said. "It's a chance to really help people in a time when it's the worst for people."
Though not a visibly competitive race, Zimmermann has attended forums and campaigned door to door, spending about $1,500 on yard signs.
Challenging him is Democrat Valerie Schultz, a 35-year Carroll County resident who works for Toyota Financial Services.
"I just wanted people to have another choice," Schultz, 60, said. "I'm a very customer service, people-oriented person."
Sheriff Kenneth L. Tregoning and State's Attorney Jerry F. Barnes, both multiple-term incumbents, had uncontested primaries and are running opposed in Tuesday's election.
They share a campaign billboard together on eastbound Route 140 near Finksburg. It reads: "Re-elect Carroll County's Law Enforcement Team."
Circuit Judges J. Barry Hughes and Thomas F. Stansfield - who ran as a slate in the primary - have no challengers.
Nor do the three incumbent Republican Orphans' Court judges: John D. Carbaugh, Herbert J. Reisig and Dorothy V. Utz.
As the election draws closer, a movement against the code home rule referendum has surfaced. The Carroll County Republican Central Committee has sponsored ads in local publications and planted yard signs urging residents to vote "no" to code home rule.
It is unusual for the central committee members to involve themselves in specific policy debates, according to Audra Miller, spokeswoman for the state Republican Party.
"Our job is not to deal in policy," Miller said. "Our job is to turn out the voters."
But the central committee's treasurer, James E. Reter, said the committee opposes code home rule because it could lead to new taxes, such as a half-percent transfer tax on home sales.
"We're not telling them how to vote," Reter said of the ads. "It's an educational ad."
The ads also claim that code home rule would grant the commissioners "uncontrolled spending authority."
Rather than submitting bond proposals to the state delegation, the commissioners could issue bonds locally under code home rule, Millender said. But bond issues would still be subject to referendum if 10 percent of registered voters pushed to put it on the ballot, she said.
Six Maryland counties have already adopted code home rule: Allegany, Caroline, Charles, Kent, Queen Anne's and Worcester counties.
The General Assembly maintains power to pass local laws that apply to all code home rule counties. The legislature could also pass local laws applying just to code counties in one of the state's four geographic regions, or classes, Millender said.
If code home rule is adopted, Carroll would be the only such county in the Central Maryland region.
"If they still want to legislate something for Carroll County, they could do it through the legislative class," Millender said. "Typically it's done for geographical regions, with something the Eastern Shore is concerned about that doesn't apply to anyone else."