UPDATED: Fairfax County saw dip in voter turnout for crucial state, local elections

(Updated at 10:55 a.m. on 11/10/2023) About 40% of registered Fairfax County voters participated in this year’s general election, which decided state and local representatives who will shape policies on issues from abortion to land use in the coming years.

As of Friday (Nov. 10), 308,855 of the county’s 787,171 registered voters cast a ballot — a 39.2% turnout rate, according to unofficial results from the Virginia Department of Elections.

(Correction: The Virginia Department of Elections results previously indicated that 382,573 ballots had been cast in the election, a 48.6% turnout rate. This story has been revised to reflect the updated numbers.)

That falls short of the 44.3% turnout and 315,836 ballots cast in 2019, when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, school board and all General Assembly seats were last up for grabs.

However, it still exceeds the turnout seen in earlier election cycles dating back to the beginning of this century, which hovered around 32% with a low of 30.3% in 2015, per county returns.

Eric Spicer, Fairfax County’s director of elections and general registrar, declined to comment on this year’s turnout numbers or speculate on “why they may differ from past years.”

The general election on Tuesday (Nov. 7) continued a trend of increased early voting that began after Virginia expanded absentee voting to all registered voters in 2020. This year, the county received 36,859 mail ballots on election night alone — more than the total number of absentee votes (36,584) in the 2019 general election.

There were 64,371 ballots cast through early voting, which ran from Sept. 22 to Saturday, Nov. 4, though the vast majority of voters still went to in-person polls on Election Day. Mail-in ballots will be counted until noon on Monday, Nov. 13, as long as they were postmarked on or before Nov. 7.

All election results, including for the still-to-be-determined Vienna Town council race, will be certified as final on Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Democrats celebrate near-sweep

The status quo largely held in Fairfax County, at least in terms of political parties, as candidates endorsed by the Democrats won every state contest and almost every local contest on the ballot.

Sheriff Stacey Kincaid and Commonwealth’s Attorney Steve Descano were both reelected with no official challengers, though Descano’s opponent for the Democratic nomination, Ed Nuttall, endorsed a write-in campaign.

Descano’s victory was matched in Arlington by Parisa Dehghani-Tafti, who also first took office in 2020 on promises of criminal justice reform. Their Loudoun County counterpart, Buta Biberaj, however, is trailing by around 1,000 votes.

“Thank you to the people of Fairfax County for choosing me to serve another four years,” Descano said in a statement highlighting his reform efforts. “…I’ve still got a lot of fight in me — and we’ve got the momentum on our side. I’m eager to keep working for the people of Fairfax, and to realize a future where safety and justice do walk hand-in-hand.”

Chris Falcon, a deputy clerk for the Arlington Circuit Court, defeated retiring Fairfax County Circuit Court Clerk John Frey’s chief deputy clerk and chosen successor, Gerarda Culipher, with nearly 63% of the vote. Falcon has pledged to make circuit court cases accessible through Virginia’s statewide case information system.

With Democrats set to control both the state Senate and House of Delegates, the Fairfax County Democratic Committee characterized the results as “a clear rejection of the radical Republican agenda” in favor of “abortion healthcare rights, public education, gun safety, voting rights, and more.”

“Governor Youngkin and Republicans continue to show they are out-of-touch with the people of the Commonwealth’s most populous jurisdiction,” FCDC Chair Bryan Graham said. “While we may not have won every race in this election, our county has overwhelmingly selected continued Democratic leadership. We are proud of what we have accomplished and thank voters for giving us a mandate to continue governing Fairfax County.”

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay expressed a similar sentiment after winning a second term with 67% of the vote over Republican challenger Arthur Purves, president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, who got 32.4%.

“Over the past few years, we’ve accomplished so much,” McKay said. “From fully funding our schools, growing our world-class economy, protecting the rights of women, taking dangerous weapons off the street, certifying Fairfax County as the safest jurisdiction of its size in the United States, and fighting to become America’s first carbon neutral county, we should all be proud that we’ve made the best county in America even better.”

Also set to return are James Walkinshaw (Braddock), Rodney Lusk (Franconia), Walter Alcorn (Hunter Mill), Dan Storck (Mount Vernon), Dalia Palchik (Providence) and Kathy Smith (Sully).

“I am honored to have the opportunity to not only continue listening to your concerns, but to be working daily on these issues that are so close to our hearts,” Palchik said in a statement to supporters. “This community is my home. You give me the passion to work every day for our district and our values, and I look forward to continuing the work as your Providence District representative.”

They will be joined by Jimmy Bierman and Fairfax County Planning Commissioner Andres Jimenez, who are respectively succeeding veteran supervisors John Foust (Dranesville) and Penny Gross (Mason).

“I care deeply for Mason district and Fairfax County, and I am honored that my community has placed their trust in me to represent them,” Jimenez said. “From my time as a citizen to my appointment to the Planning Commission, I have come to love many things about Fairfax County, but still see a few places where we can improve our community. I look forward to getting to work on those issues.”

The exception to the blue sweep was Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity, who received 54.4% of the vote to defeat Building Momentum Chief Technology Officer Albert Vega and secure a fifth term on the Board of Supervisors.

In a Facebook message on Tuesday night, Herrity thanked Vega for the “hard-fought campaign” and vowed to continue serving as a “balancing” voice on the board, attributing his victory to supporters who made “this election about results, not politics.”

“The results of this election give me great hope for the future of Fairfax,” Herrity said. “As Washington and Richmond continue to struggle to find a way to work together and govern, our election results prove voters care about elected officials who work hard to deliver commonsense solutions to our problems.”

Fairfax County Republican Committee Chairman Steve Knotts said the party is “thrilled” by Herrity’s reelection.

“That means Fairfax will have a voice of reason on the county board for another four years,” Knotts said in a statement to FFXnow. “To our candidates who fell short, thank you for running as hard as you did. To our many volunteers, and to everyone who voted Republican yesterday, we cannot thank you all enough.”

Democratic slate prevails on school board despite challenges

The GOP shutout from the Fairfax County School Board is particularly notable after four tense years that included unsuccessful recall campaigns, a potentially Supreme Court-bound lawsuit, and clashes with Youngkin’s adminstration and “parental rights” advocates over everything from COVID-19 health measures and transgender rights to LGBTQ-focused books and delayed notices for academic commendations.

Only four members of the current school board, whose 12 members were all backed by the FCDC in 2019, sought to return: Melanie Meren (Hunter Mill), Ricardy Anderson (Mason), Karl Frisch (Providence) and at-large representative Rachna Sizemore Heizer, who ran for Braddock District instead of seeking a repeat in the countywide seat.

Three members — Stella Pekarsky (Sully), Laura Jane Cohen (Springfield) and Karen Keys-Gamarra (At-Large) — all successfully campaigned for General Assembly seats. Pekarsky and Cohen will be succeeded, respectively, by Seema Dixit and Sandy Anderson.

The three at-large seats were won by two familiar faces — Ilryong Moon and Ryan McElveen, who are returning to the board after stepping away in 2019 — and newcomer Kyle McDaniel, a pilot.

“Campaigning these last ten months have been an wonderful opportunity to meet so many parents, voters and community members, but I am ready to get to work next year for our kids,” McDaniel said in a statement to supporters. “I’m excited to help protect public education, foster equity, feed kids, celebrate our diversity, further our progress and reward the excellence of our teachers and students.”

McDaniel, who identifies as bisexual, will be one of three members of the LGBTQ community on the school board, along with Robyn Lady, who won the Dranesville District seat, and Frisch, who became the board’s first openly gay member when first elected in 2019.

As the school board’s current vice chair, Frisch is in line to succeed exiting Dranesville representative Elaine Tholen as chair when the new board takes office on Jan. 1.

“These results show people are fed up with the political attacks targeting our world-class public schools and teachers,” Frisch said in a statement. “Fairfax County residents have made it clear: they want safe and inclusive schools with exceptional educators and equitable access to the opportunities every student needs to succeed. I am grateful to have earned voters’ trust for another term and eager to advance these priorities with my new colleagues.”

The school board will be rounded out by Mateo Dunne, replacing Karen Corbett Sanders as the Mount Vernon District’s representative, and Marcia St. John-Cunning, who’s succeeding Tamara Derenak Kaufax in the Franconia District even after getting momentarily disqualified over paperwork errors.

“For decades, elected Democratic-endorsed leadership on the school board has shaped FCPS into a world-class school system,” the FCDC said. “While the opposition’s talking points have changed to focus on lies and distortions, Democrats remain laser-focused on ensuring that every child has the opportunity to excel in FCPS. We thank the voters for their continued trust.”