The Incredible, Shrinking Town Voter

April 04, 1995

Municipal governments are supposed to epitomize the best in American democracy. Small towns are closer to the people, non-bureaucratic, responsive.

Yet Carroll's municipalities are having trouble getting town residents to vote or run for office. With elections in Sykesville, Hampstead, New Windsor, Union Bridge, Westminster, Manchester and Taneytown beginning a month from now, residents have the opportunity -- should they choose -- to reinvigorate the county's municipal governments.

Voter turnout for town elections of late has been abysmal. In the last round of municipal elections two years ago, as few as 100 town residents were selecting mayors and council members. Taneytown, Manchester and Hampstead had turnouts of only about 15 percent. Westminster barely reached 10 percent. Such pathetic participation in elections can easily undermine the authority and power of Carroll's municipalities at a time when they must cope with numerous and difficult growth-related issues.

Towns are bearing the brunt of much of Carroll's rapid residential growth of the past decade.

Streets are inadequate for the traffic. Parking in the commercial districts is in short supply. Residents are spending more on water and sewer service, and the costs keep rising.

The perceived deterioration in the quality of life in some of these towns has resulted in pitched political fights. In Hampstead and Manchester, factions have developed between old and new residents. The political cleavage resulted in town councils squandering large amounts of time on finding replacements for council members who resigned from office.

If residents have had their fill of such squabbling or are unhappy with their town's administration, they can run for office themselves. In four of Carroll's towns, the mayor's seat is up for election. Seventeen council seats are also up for grabs.

This is not a good time, if one ever exists, for Carroll County to have large numbers of alienated residents who feel no stake in self-governance. If residents don't like the direction in which their local governments are headed, they can begin to effect changes next month by running for office themselves and by voting in the elections.

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