Board awaits state ruling

County seeks advice on holding election with no district map


Carroll County's commissioner election remains in a holding pattern, and officials are unsure how the impending change of government, from three to five commissioners, will play out this year.

Janet B. Jump, president of the county elections board, has asked state elections officials how to proceed with a by-district election of five commissioners, when no map exists to define those districts.

The 2004 referendum that expanded the board and stipulated an election by district instead of at large, as has been the county's tradition, "clearly did not anticipate what would happen with no map." She mailed a letter to the state board of elections Thursday asking for assistance.

"We need help, advice and cooperation, so we can put an election together," Jump said.

The General Assembly, charged with enacting a five-district map, concluded its 2006 session on Monday without voting on Carroll's map request.

Candidates for the board cannot campaign or file and elections workers cannot tackle the massive task before them, including notifying nearly 105,000 registered voters which district they live in and where they should vote.

"We are on hold, sitting and waiting for a decision," said Patricia K. Matsko, director of Carroll's elections board. "Here we are going into May, when most candidates usually have filed, and nobody can file because we don't know what the districts are.

"I think I have asked everybody but the governor himself what we should do," she said. "Right now, we are waiting for an opinion from the state."

A bipartisan redistricting committee, which Jump chaired, spent six months last year reviewing map options and holding workshops throughout the county.

The committee ultimately decided on a map, known as Option Two, that placed towns with common interests together, melded major growth areas and kept the Westminster environs as a single jurisdiction. Population is about 31,000 per district.

The county delegation voted for an alternative, known as Option One, and drafted a map bill that split Hampstead from Manchester and made a single district in South Carroll, the county's most populous area.

The legislative bill, which county and town officials as well as residents opposed, languished in a House committee for more than a month before it passed and went to the Senate late last month. The bill made it out of a Senate committee Monday, the last day of the session, but never came to a vote.

"This just illustrates what a conundrum we have when we have to go to Annapolis for everything," Jump said.

An analysis issued by the Office of the Maryland Attorney General in February says that the county can ask the court to define a map or, in the interest of time, hold an at-large election, contrary to voters' wishes.

The county commissioners are reviewing options that include asking the Circuit Court for a declaratory judgment as soon as possible.

The county attorney has advised waiting for the Attorney General to decide. Official opinions can take as long as 10 weeks, however, extending any decision to the end of June.

"That won't work," said William R. Varga, assistant attorney general. "There may be a formal letter of advice, but I would be surprised if that is any different from the well-researched response already issued."

In the meantime, prospective candidates, who must file by July 3, can only wait.

"This puts all of us who want to run for office in a terrible position," said Commissioner Julia Walsh Gouge, who expects to seek a fifth term. "I probably would have had a fundraiser by now. I could support a court case, but only if there are no hitches."

Matsko said she has fielded many inquiries from potential candidates, but her hands are tied.

"We are expecting a large, large field," she said. "But which map we have means a lot. Candidates need to know which district they would represent and who they would run against."

Matsko and her staff are staring at a calendar.

"July 3 is coming quickly," she said. "We have about 105,000 ballots to print and mail out."

An election costs more than $100,000, she said. Matsko is hoping she won't have to delay the commissioners race until there is a map and then schedule a special election just for five commissioners.

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