May day for charter government Carroll County: Belated setting of May 2 referendum date followed many missteps.

March 20, 1998

AFTER An unsettling of missteps, the election date for Carroll County's vote on charter government finally seems to be decided. The county commissioners agreed this week to hold the crucial election Saturday, May 2. But given the piecemeal objections that arose to previously proposed voting dates, and the lack of a single comprehensive overview of elections laws, the May 2 date may yet run into problems.

Any further change would seriously erode the integrity of an open election on this fundamental and controversial question of how Carroll County should be governed. As it stands, only six weeks remain before the referendum.

Previous referendums on charter or home rule in Carroll did not run into this problem, because they did not attempt to hold a special election in a year with two federal elections.

It is the conflict with federal election law for the Sept. 15 primary -- ultimately, the lack of time to mail out absentee ballots with names of candidates for charter offices, should the question pass -- that led to the debacle.

The public must wonder why the crucial dates of elections, transition stage and candidate-filing deadlines were not addressed by various responsible parties.

They include the charter-writing panel, the county commissioners, the University of Maryland institute and the attorney general's office that reviewed the document, the county legislative delegation, the state and county election boards. Various lawyers were also involved.

Charter advocates have felt strongly that the charter proposal of 1992, which failed at the polls, demonstrated weak points that could easily be remedied to make the 1998 document more appealing to voters. That perspective may have led to less-than-thorough review of the election timing and transition sequences in the 1998 document.

Short notice of the May 2 referendum will limit public discussion and debate of this proposal to change Carroll's form of government from three commissioners to a county executive and County Council, the system used by other Baltimore-area jurisdictions. That's unfortunate for this critical question, about which many voters remain undecided. Let the education and advocacy campaigns begin. There's no time to waste.

Pub Date: 3/20/98

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