Fairfax County’s General Assembly delegation could get a serious shake-up in upcoming elections.

Virginia’s new redistricting maps, which were unanimously approved by the state Supreme Court late last month, created four open General Assembly seats, while pairing some long-time incumbents.

The maps also altered U.S. House of Representatives electoral boundaries. They are in effect for the 2022 general election, which will have members of Congress and the state Senate on the ballot.

Intended to reflect population changes shown by 2020 Census data, the maps were drawn by two court-appointed “special masters” — one Democrat and one Republican — after a nonpartisan commission failed to complete the task. It was a contentious process in comparison to Fairfax County’s redistricting efforts last year.

Under the new maps, there are three open seats representing Fairfax County in the House of Delegates and one open seat in the state Senate, according to analysis by the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project:

House of Delegates

  • District 11, which is bounded by Hunter Mill and Lawyers roads in Oakton to the north and Braddock Road past Fairfax City to the south
  • District 15, which encompasses Burke up north to Little River Turnpike and reaches the Loudoun County border to the south
  • District 19, which follows Telegraph Road starting in Hayfield and includes Lorton, Mason Neck, and parts of Prince William County

Senate

  • District 33, which covers Burke into Prince William County

The county’s Congressional districts for Reps. Don Beyer, Jennifer Wexton, and Gerry Connolly remain intact, though with District 10 shifting further south, Wexton now represents a smaller portion of county residents than before.

However, at the state level, four House and two Senate districts now have incumbents living within the same district lines, requiring them to make a choice: run in a primary against a colleague, move to another district, or retire.

Throughout the redistricting process, the special masters said aligning with incumbents’ residences was not a priority compared to other considerations, like compactness and preserving communities of interest.

“It’s a challenge for any incumbent when paired with a colleague after redistricting, especially within the same political party, to decide whether he or she should continue on or call it a day for the public service,” said George Mason University Schar School of Policy and Government professor David Ramadan, a former delegate himself. “Bottom line, this is politics, and each member is going to do what that member thinks is best for them.” Read More

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved slight changes to the boundaries of local electoral districts yesterday (Tuesday), following population changes reported by the 2020 Census.

The board voted 9-1 to adopt a new map that keeps the county at nine magisterial districts. The dissent came from the county’s lone Republican supervisor, Pat Herrity, who represents Springfield District, which is affected by five of seven voting precinct changes.

County leaders heralded the redistrict process as transparent and equitable.

“These small adjustments aim to take population changes into account while minimizing the disruption to the daily lives of our residents and keeping communities together,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said in a statement following the vote.

The redistricting primarily sought to make supervisors have roughly the same amount of constituents represented in districts and treated equally, McKay said, noting that all districts grew during the last decade except Springfield District.

The board moved forward with a slightly tweaked citizen-proposed plan that shifted seven precincts to a different district:

  • Saratoga (626) — from Mount Vernon to Springfield
  • Fort Buffalo (703) — from Providence to Mason
  • Woodburn (717) — split along the Capital Beltway between Providence and Mason
  • Penderbrook (730) — from Providence to Springfield
  • Irving (827) — from Springfield to Braddock
  • West Springfield (840) — from Springfield to Lee
  • Compton (933) — from Sully to Springfield

The approved map was one of 64 plans proposed by citizens and the county’s 20-person Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC).

The adopted 2021 Fairfax County Redistricting Plan (via Fairfax County)

Appointed by the county board in June, the RAC voted on Sept. 27 on their preferred nine, 10, and 11-district plans. There was only one submitted map with 11 districts, and the two preferred 10-district maps were chosen without much contest, but the committee struggled to agree on two nine-district recommendations, ultimately only choosing one.

Stating that he only learned about the anticipated changes to his district on Monday (Dec. 6), Herrity requested that the board vote on the Redistricting Advisory Committee’s preferred nine-district plan, but he failed to get a second to take the matter to a vote.

“The public or the RAC has not seen this particular map,” Herrity said in a lengthy statement that accused Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, who chairs the board’s legislative committee, and his other colleagues of adopting the plan behind closed doors based on politics.

The typically year-long redistricting process was shortened into five months, because the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the release of 2020 Census figures.

County officials noted that there was a public hearing on the matter and meetings throughout the process. Walkinshaw said at the meeting that his door was always open for Herrity to express concerns.

“This is a plan that’s minimally disruptive,” Walkinshaw said, as county officials noted that consistency was a driving factor. He added that ideas from the public can be the best approach, saying the modified plan of “RAC_9_0924_1309″ could have been made by someone in their pajamas.

The Board of Supervisors accepted the last redistricting plan for Fairfax County 9-0 a decade ago. Herrity agreed with that plan, but then-Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins abstained.

Because of Virginia’s new Voting Rights Act, which took effect on July 1, the adopted district map needs to get certified by the state attorney general before becoming active.

Going forward, the Redistricting Advisory Committee has been tasked with evaluating potential name changes to districts. It has until March 1 to make a recommendation to the county board, which would then vote on whether to make any changes.

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Fairfax County should minimize disruption as much as possible when adopting new electoral district maps, the chair of the county’s Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC) said at a public hearing yesterday (Tuesday).

Paul Berry urged the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to make the least-disruptive changes possible, keeping each supervisor’s district — and who they represent — close to the same, while taking into account factors like population growth and equity.

“We strongly encourage the board to consider the concept of minimal disruption,” he said. “Minimal disruption is the idea that residents of a political geography have as much stability in their civic life as possible.”

With a condensed timeline due to the delayed release of 2020 Census data, the board-appointed RAC met 13 times between July 27 and Oct. 12 to develop recommendations for redrawing the boundaries that will determine local supervisor and school board districts for the next decade.

The committee ultimately released a report on Nov. 1 with 64 proposed reapportionment maps: 32 that maintain the county’s current nine-district setup, 25 with 10 districts, and seven with 11 districts.

Berry recommended keeping a 10-member county board with nine district seats and an at-large chair, the most common plan from both the public and RAC members.

The board agreed to adopt a redistricting plan on Dec. 7. The public hearing record has been left open, allowing written comments to be accepted until the vote.

Local Process Differs from State

Redistricting is legally required every 10 years in conjunction with each new Census to ensure electoral districts have proportional representation.

According to the 2020 Census, Fairfax County’s population grew 6%, from less than 1.082 million in 2010 to over 1.15 million in 2020, and it is now a minority-majority locality, with notable growth in its Asian and Hispanic populations.

Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay contrasted the county’s redistricting process with the one currently underway at the state level, where the new Virginia Redistricting Commission succumbed to the partisan gridlock it was intended to prevent.

The Commonwealth’s new General Assembly and congressional districts will now be drawn by the Virginia Supreme Court instead.

This is a very different process than used in Richmond for redistricting,” McKay said. “I, in past lives, have served on a redistricting committee myself, as has [Hunter Mill District] Supervisor [Walter] Alcorn, and I can attest how open and transparent our process is and a model for how you do redistricting.”

Berry, a substitute teacher for Fairfax County Public Schools, said the effort was 100% citizen-led, drawing more proposals than any previous redistricting effort in the county. RAC members came up with 24 maps, and the public submitted 40, an increase from three in 2011.

Equity, Development Among Concerns

The residents and leaders of public-interest groups who spoke at yesterday’s public hearing were split on whether Fairfax County needs change or stability. Read More

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In a meeting room that more resembles a college classroom than the stateliness of the board auditorium just two floors down, 20 volunteers are redrawing the lines that divide and define Fairfax County.

Appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on June 22, the 2021 Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC) has been meeting regularly since late July, but members got their first opportunity on Monday (Sept. 13) to present the district maps they’ve created to determine the county’s leaders for the next decade.

Some members suggested limited changes, moving the Fort Buffalo precinct across the district line from Providence to Mason, for example. Others crafted entirely new districts around Lorton or a swath of Herndon and Chantilly east of Dulles International Airport.

Fairfax County has developed a publicly available mapping tool that allows communities to be realigned with a simple click of a button, but each alteration could have significant implications for what the county will look like in the future.

“These are not just lines on a map,” said Linda Smyth, who now represents Providence District on the RAC and previously represented it on the Board of Supervisors. “It’s about neighborhoods. It’s about people.”

Redistricting Advisory Committee Mason District representative Alis Wang added a Dulles district to her Fairfax County map (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The pressure on this year’s redistricting effort is even higher than usual as the county races to complete a year-long process that has been condensed into roughly five months, thanks largely to coronavirus-related delays in the release of data from the 2020 Census.

The RAC voted on Monday to request a timeline extension after complications in getting adjusted Census data from the Virginia Division of Legislative Services further delayed county staff’s ability to build the online mapping tool that the committee needs to do its work, according to Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw.

Under the schedule originally approved by the Board of Supervisors on June 8, the RAC was expected to finish its work and turn in all the map options they think the board should consider on Friday (Sept. 17).

However, the committee didn’t get the new Census population and demographic data until last Friday (Sept. 10). Prior to that, members had been using old data for training purposes, RAC Chairman Paul Berry says.

“We got the numbers much later in the calendar year than we expected. We would’ve been doing this in the spring if not for the pandemic,” Berry said Monday night. “…The board and Chairman [Jeff] McKay felt it was prudent to give everyone more time to do the work, because we’re all volunteers at the end of the day.”

After a motion put forward by Walkinshaw, the board voted unanimously on Tuesday (Sept. 14) to give the RAC until Sept. 28 to finalize its maps. The initial Sept. 10 deadline for members of the public to submit their own proposed maps has also been extended to this Sunday (Sept. 19).

Board members acknowledged that the new timeline remains less-than-ideal, giving the RAC under two weeks to evaluate its own maps and those from the public, but flexibility is limited by state law, which requires localities to send a redistricting plan to the attorney general for approval by the end of the year. Read More

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