Four of six electoral districts host contested races for positions on the RTM this November, marking the first time the town's legislative branch has seen competitive elections in five years.

RTM Moderator Karen Armour said she views the contested races as a positive sign.

"I think it's an indication of increased interest in what the RTM does," Armour said. "It's an important piece of the town government."

Districts III, IV, V and VI are all hosting contested races. In District III, 12 people are vying for 11 positions. District IV has nine candidates for eight spots. Districts V and VI each have nine people competing for seven vacancies.

Districts I and II both have less candidates than vacancies. District I has 11 people for 12 positions and District II has three people for nine spots. The remaining vacancies will be filled through appointments by the members of that district.

Current Selectman Seth Morton is running for a contested seat in District III. His decision comes after being denied endorsement by the Republican Town Committee in July. Morton opted to enter his hat into the RTM ring instead of attempting to run in a primary election for the Board of Selectmen.

"If you go through a primary, you have to raise money twice. You go back to your supporters twice for money," he said. "And you have to look at your own resources and think about what you can raise."

It won't be his first time on the RTM ballot. He spent more than two decades on the RTM before being elected to the Board of Selectmen, and he still wants to serve the town, he said.

"I think my service with the Board of Selectmen brings something to the RTM that's a value, and so I'm very much interested in serving," he said.

RTM races in each district will list candidates names alphabetically on the ballot.

The alphabetical listing can be viewed as a disadvantage for candidates whose names begin with letters toward the end of the alphabet.

"People go left to right and they go click, click, click, click and they run out of clicks," Morton said. "I've seen [what] it looks like from the results that that's what happens. When you see the last person short like 50 or 60 votes, it looks like somebody just got to the end and stopped."

Gary Swenson is an incumbent running for re-election. Because of his last name, he will appear eighth on the ballot for a seven-vacancy race in District VI. He said he hopes the alphabetical order will not affect the results.

"I would hope that people will do their homework as to go back and check record of people who have been on the RTM before as I have and judge them accordingly. If they feel I'm worthy of being elected, then they'll vote for me," he said. "I like to think I've done my homework as being a representative on the RTM, all I ask is that the constituency do their homework."

There are several "homework" materials available to voters for their reference. The League of Women Voters provides a voter's guide as a public service, which includes the attendance records of the 38 sitting RTM members seeking re-election has been made public. Of the 38 sitting members, 13 have missed one of the six RTM meetings, eight have missed two, one has missed three and two members have missed five meetings.

Elsie Berl, an incumbent running for re-election in District VI, missed five consecutive meetings.

"It's been a very busy year in many different ways, and I wasn't anxious to drive at night," she said. "I think it would be a good idea to have over-the-phone thins, and they don't ever do that "� Why don't they have voting or question-answering over the phone sometimes?"

Berl also missed the October meeting, which is not listed on the attendance sheet, due to the rain, she said.

Chris Camuti, from District V, also missed five consecutive meetings between December 2008 and May 2009; he was present at the September 2009 meeting last week.

"Regarding attendance, while attending the general meetings is always a priority of mine, last year I had some issues that prevented me from attending as often as I would have liked. This is regrettable, but with all of the meetings now televised, I can watch and make sure I don't miss anything said," Camuti wrote in an e-mail to the Darien News.

He said that attendance at general meetings is not a completely accurate measurement of an RTM members involvement.

"The real work done by the RTM is done in the various committees responsible for making recommendations both for and against issues that eventually come up for a vote," he wrote.

The RTM is comprised of 100 members. Elected members serve two-year terms. Elections are staggered, meaning that there is an RTM election each year, which fills about half the seats. Once elected, RTM members work to pass laws and ordinances, appropriate money and approve collective bargaining contracts involving town employees.