Varying Municipal Election Days A State Idiosyncrasy

Home Rule Permits Cities Broad Latitude

May 05, 1991|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,Staff writer

Taneytown voters go to the polls tomorrow. Union Bridge residents won't cast ballots in their election until May 14.

Find something a little odd in that? State and local municipal officials don't. Nor does the League of Women Voters.

"No, that's just the way it's always been," said Betty Gehr, president of the League of Women Voters of Carroll County. "Each town sets up its own election, based on its charter. There's really no relationship between the towns. It's like different states having electionsat different times.

"You can't live in more than one municipality," she added.

Maryland's municipal elections may be unique, however.

In neighboring Pennsylvania, Virginia and Delaware, for example, municipal elections are conducted on the same day.

In Pennsylvania, state, county and municipal elections are set by the legislature,said Diane Bosak, government affairs coordinator of the state's League of Cities. Pennsylvania holds primaries in May and a general election in November. Its municipalities hold partisan elections.

"Florida may have municipal elections on different days. Other than that, I don't think there is anybody. I think everybody does it on the sameday," Bosak said.

Jim Peck, associate director of the Maryland Municipal League, said state law addresses uniformity in state and county elections but applies to municipalities in "only very small and minor sections." Cities and towns with home rule set up election dates and their own procedures in their charters, he said.

"In a nutshell, municipal elections are on different days because Maryland municipalities have home rule," Peck said.

The most popular month for local elections is May. The three-month period from April through June is when more than three-quarters of the state's 155 incorporated municipalities hold elections, according to information provided by the MML.

And not all state municipalities conduct elections each year. Fifty-nine elect at least some officials yearly, 80 have elections every two years, one every three years and 15 every four years.

Hampstead, for example, conducts its municipal election the second Tuesday in May of every odd-number year, said Pat Warner, town clerk-treasurer.

Because Mount Airy was incorporated in 1894, officials kept elections in even-numbered years.

Neal W. Powell, Taneytown city manager and a former president of the Maryland Municipal League, said there have been occasional pushes to make municipal elections in Maryland uniform. But Peck said there hasn't been such an effort in the several years he has been at the helm.

Making local elections uniform, Powell said, probably wouldn't cause any problems for most municipalities.

"It really wouldn't make any difference," he said.

Besides conducting elections on different days, Gehr said, towns also have their own registration procedures and deadlines.

In New Windsorand Union Bridge, for example, the registration deadline is the day before election. But in Sykesville, it precedes the deadline to file for candidacy -- which Gehr said could hinder candidates trying to register prospective voters who support their candidacy.

It used to be that voters in Carroll registered for municipal and county elections separately, but universal registration went into effect last year,Gehr said.

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