The five incumbents in the Calvert County courthouse races may have more name recognition than their opponents, but all the candidates face a similar challenge: Most voters likely have little idea what these positions entail.
That rings particularly true for the six people running for Orphans' Court judgeships, a position with a somewhat deceiving title that traces back to early Maryland history. These judges determine guardians for minors, but they are primarily responsible for probating and administering wills and resolving estate disputes.
"It's basically a civil judge position," said Leslie Downs, one of the three Republicans seeking the three judgeships at stake Tuesday.
The candidates seeking job reflect a wide variety of professional backgrounds. The Republican candidates are Downs, an active community volunteer who has served as chairwoman of the Juvenile Delinquency Task Force; Judy Ann Wilson-Dawes, a private music instructor who recently was the executor of her parents' estates; and Dan L. Thomas of Huntingtown.
The Democratic candidates are Jessie Jo Bowen, the county's former treasurer; Barbara Bowen Elliott, the current chief judge of the Orphans' Court; and R. Calvert "Cal" Steuart. A lawyer who specializes in probate and real estate law, Steuart was appointed to the court in July to fill a vacancy.
Thomas is part of a husband and wife duo running for courthouse positions but not actively campaigning. Angela R. Thomas is the Republican candidate for register of wills. Dan Thomas said he recently accepted a job that requires extensive foreign travel, which will leave little time for the judgeship.
"I'm kind of hoping I don't win," he said.
Angela Thomas declined to comment. Her absence from the public eye has made for a quiet campaign season for veteran Register of Wills Margaret H. Phipps, who is seeking her seventh term in that office. Phipps said she had not seen or met her opponent, but that has not stopped the Democratic incumbent from taking the election seriously.
"I love that job," she said. "I've been going on and doing my regular things, because you never can take anything for granted."
Treasurer incumbent Nova Tracy-Soper also has been working to keep her name fresh in voters' minds. Her approach has included door-to-door campaigning and television ads that emphasize the open-door policy she has sought to maintain during her eight years in office. The reaction has been positive, Republican Tracy-Soper said.
"The name recognition is there," she said.
Tracy-Soper explains that the treasurer's office is not a policy-making position. But her opponent, Democrat Tom Vonk of Chesapeake Beach, said he would like to see the position become more visible and more involved in the policy discussion.
Vonk, who teaches business-related courses at American University, said the treasurer should begin making quarterly reports to the Board of Commissioners regarding the county's financial condition. He also would like to see the office holder serve as a financial adviser to the board and other county agencies.
"We need a broader view of what the treasurer's job is," he said.
In the clerk of the Circuit Court race, Democratic incumbent Kathy Perry Smith faces newcomer Michael Benton, a Republican and lifelong Calvert resident. Smith has served four years as clerk and has worked in the clerk's office for the past 22 years.
Benton, a real estate agent and owner of a construction company, said the court position would help him learn the workings of county government and serve as a stepping stone to his goal of becoming a county commissioner.