Outcome, turnout in election uncertain Voters may choose to abolish commission or add 2 members to it

May 01, 1998|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Carroll County is holding a special election tomorrow to determine its future form of government.

How many of the county's 75,120 eligible voters will take time to cast a ballot on a Saturday is as much an unknown as whether they will choose a county executive and end 161 years of commissioner leadership.

More than 200 residents have voted by absentee ballot at the Board of Elections, and more than 800 more ballots are expected by mail, postmarked by today. The ballots cannot be opened until 10 a.m. Monday.

"It has been very, very heavy here as far as absentee ballots go," said Patricia Matsko, election board director. "I expect we will top 1,000."

In the 1996 presidential election, Carroll received 1,936 absentee ballots; about 70 percent of the electorate voted.

"We will have to wait for the day of the election itself to see how significant the absentees will be to the count," Matsko said.

The ballot will have two initiatives and no candidates. The vote will be for or against charter and for or against expanding the three-member board of commissioners to five.

If charter is approved, county government will change from a commissioner form to an executive and county council. The part-time council members will be elected by district, and the full-time executive at-large.

If both initiatives pass, charter takes precedence. If neither passes, the county will keep its three-commissioner board.

Registered voters unable to get to the polls tomorrow can cast an absentee ballot at the elections office in Westminster today. A designated person can pick up an absentee ballot for a friend or relative.

"They must have a signed form that designates them as an agent in transporting an absentee ballot," Matsko said. "The form must have the voter's name, address, birth date, signature and date."

The unprecedented Saturday election defies predictions.

"We just don't know what to expect," said Donna Frotton, county election clerk. "There has never been a Saturday election in Carroll or in the state."

Actually, according to state archives, Kent County had a Saturday election on May 10, 1890, to determine who would be licensed to sell liquor.

Before 1800, elections typically took several days and would often spill over into a Saturday.

In Louisiana, Saturday has been election day for all regional races "for as long as we can remember," said Marie Brewer, state assistant director of registration. Only national elections are scheduled on Tuesdays.

Louisiana typically posts a high turnout. In 1995, about 82 percent of the electorate voted in a hotly contested governor's race, she said. "In general, people here prefer a Saturday election. They are accustomed to it and grouse about Tuesdays, when they have to vote before or after work."

The elections board staff said the date, set by the County Commission on March 18, has involved considerable work.

The staff had to relocate four polling places, from three fire halls and one church that had booked events for tomorrow. More than 11,000 voters were notified by mail of the one-time change and will be reminded by letter in August to return to their traditional precincts for the September primary.

Voters who use Reese, Union Bridge and Winfield fire halls and Deer Park United Methodist Church are reassigned to nearby schools. Reese voters will go to the cafeteria at Sandymount Elementary and the Winfield precinct moves to the South Carroll High cafeteria. Union Bridge will use the town hall, and the Deer Park church voters will go to the Mechanicsville Elementary gym.

Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Because it is a nonpartisan election, the county can save a little of the expected $105,000 cost by cutting the number of judges from 466 to 300. Matsko will not know the cost until next week.

A few callers have complained that the referendum has not been adequately publicized, she said.

"The only way to make sure every voter knew would be to mail sample ballots to every registered voter," Matsko said, who added that the task would be expensive and time-consuming.

The Board of Elections is on the second floor of the Winchester Building, 125 N. Court St., Westminster. Information: 410-386-2080.

Pub Date: 5/01/98

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