Low voter turnout so far in Fairfax County’s Democratic primary

Voting in the 2023 Democratic primary is underway at Bailey’s Community Center (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Voter turnout for today’s Democratic primary has been more of a trickle than a stream, despite some pivotal races appearing on the ballot in Fairfax County.

By 1 p.m., just 2.6% of registered voters had cast a ballot today, the Fairfax County Office of Elections reported. That put the total turnout for the primary at an estimated 7.2%, including early in-person and mail voting.

Vienna’s Cunningham Park Elementary School was creeping past 180 voters around 1:30 p.m. The precinct hoped to reach 300 voters for the day, according to a volunteer handing out pamphlets for 37th Senate District candidate Saddam Azlan Salim, who’s challenging incumbent Chap Petersen.

Over in Bailey’s Crossroads, the Bailey’s Community Center had counted just 91 voters by that time.

With the county leaning decidedly Democratic in recent years, the primary results could determine the ultimate winners of key local and state elections, including Fairfax County Commonwealth’s Attorney, where incumbent Steve Descano is in a heated battle with defense attorney Ed Nuttall. No Republican candidates for the office have emerged so far.

Other races in today’s primary include county sheriff, five Fairfax County Board of Supervisors seats and seven seats in the Virginia General Assembly. The full Board of Supervisors and General Assembly, along with the Fairfax County School Board, will be on the ballot in November’s general election.

Today’s turnout will need to double by the time polls close at 7 p.m. for the percentage to match the last Democratic primary with the same races on the ballot. The June 11, 2019 primary recorded a 10.3% turnout, per county records.

Notably, the number of active, registered voters in the county was actually higher four years ago at 721,716 people. The county currently has 717,116 active, registered voters, according to an Office of Elections spokesperson.

The exact reason for the drop is unclear, but the county’s population growth has slowed since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, declining in 2021 for the first time since 1840 before a slight uptick last year.