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.”
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