Government itself is on the ballot this year in Calvert County.

Residents will vote to determine the form of local governance: a board of county commissioners or code home rule.

Under the commissioner system, many laws about Calvert matters must be passed by the Maryland General Assembly. Code home rule would give the county's five commissioners greater authority to adopt local legislation.

The majority of commissioners support adopting code home rule. In August, they voted 4 to 1 to put the issue on the ballot.

"It brings government down to the level that is closest to home," said Commissioner Susan Shaw (R-Huntingtown). "We don't have to wait a whole year to get a local public law that only affects Calvert County through the legislature."

Commissioner Linda L. Kelley (R-At Large) cast the lone vote against the proposed change. She said code home rule would give the commissioners too much power.

"It removes all the checks and balances," she said.

But Shaw said code home rule would provide the opportunity for more public oversight. Any law enacted by the commissioners would be subject to public referendum if 10 percent of registered voters petition to put it on the ballot.

"It gives the public a safeguard that they don't have right now," Shaw said.

Kelley also raised concerns that the new form of government would lead to higher taxes. Code home rule would allow the commissioners to increase the real estate transfer tax.

If code home rule is approved, the commissioners would also be given bonding authority. Currently, the General Assembly must approve bonds issued to raise money for county projects.

The new form of government would formalize the legislative process. Proposed bills, for example, would be published before their passage, which is not required now.

If the code home rule passes, Calvert would become the seventh county in Maryland to adopt that form of government. Charles County adopted code home rule two years ago. Seven other counties have a commissioner form of government, and nine counties have charter government, which provides for both executive and legislative branches on the local level.

Supporters of code home rule say it would not have a big effect on the number of laws passed in the county.

From 2000 to this year, the commissioners made 27 legislative requests to the county's delegation in Annapolis. Of those requests, 25 were passed on to the General Assembly, and 22 were approved. Under code home rule, 21 of the 27 legislative requests could have been addressed by the commissioners without involving state lawmakers.