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Voters fill out their ballots at Marshall High School in November 2021 (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved changes to more than half of the county’s voting precincts after a public hearing on Tuesday (March 8).

Spurred by last year’s state redistricting process, which redrew federal and state electoral districts to balance constituents based on 2020 Census data, the precinct adjustments will require around 4% of the county’s registered voters — approximately 29,000 people — to switch polling places.

The county-level redistricting efforts, completed in December, affected only seven precincts.

County officials are racing to implement the changes before the June 21 primary elections. They carry a one-time cost of $501,840 and a recurring annual cost of $54,400 for mail, personnel, and equipment to make sure people are aware of the changes, according to the county.

As noted by Fairfax County Electoral Board Secretary Kate Hanley, the precincts were revised based on the following guidelines:

  • Disrupt the fewest voters possible
  • Ensure precinct boundaries and polling places meet all legal requirements
  • Confirm polling places have adequate facilities to accommodate voters, including parking
  • Minimize the number of extremely small or extremely large precincts

The “re-precincting” changes will ensure each precinct has at least 100 voters and no more than 5,000, among other requirements. As a result, the county will have 17 more voting precincts and one more polling place, bringing the respective totals up to 264 precincts and 230 polling sites.

Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, who chairs the Board of Supervisors’ Legislative Committee, attributed the need to adjust precincts to disruptive changes caused by the state’s redistricting, which sought to make little to no deviations in population between districts.

He said he hopes officials consider the cost of that approach for the next Census in 2030.

The General Assembly also passed a law that largely prohibited split precincts, complicating matters when the new district maps drawn by the Virginia Supreme Court “created numerous split precincts in the County,” county staff said in the board agenda.

Previously, a single precinct could generally serve voters in two different legislative districts.

“What we’re being asked to do is at the behest of the state and not being done at the behest of the county,” Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “It’s quite different than the minimally disruptive process that we went through for redistricting here in Fairfax County.”

Hanley told the board that election officials will need its help because a lot of people will be confused. An online system where voters can find their precinct doesn’t yet reflect the changes.

She said the county will seek to educate voters.

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The Sully District Governmental Center (via Google Maps)

A committee appointed to guide Fairfax County’s redistricting process last year will recommend that two of the county’s magisterial districts get new names.

In a draft report released on Feb. 22, the Redistricting Advisory Committee (RAC) says that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors should consider renaming Lee and Sully districts as part of its ongoing effort to move away from place and landmark names with historical ties to the Confederacy or slavery.

The recommendation comes from a six-person workgroup that the committee formed to focus on those specific districts.

“The subcommittee agrees that commemoration of Confederate names and associated properties does not reflect the values of our community today,” the report says, stating that its goal is “not to erase history,” but to update the names to support the county’s One Fairfax equity policy.

The Board of Supervisors appointed 20 people to the RAC in June to develop new electoral district maps for the county. While that task was completed in December, the group proposed sticking together to reevaluate district and precinct names, with a particular focus on Lee and Sully.

The committee was reappointed on Dec. 7 and began the renaming evaluation process on Jan. 18.

According to the draft report, the historical record “is somewhat inconclusive” on whether Lee District was named directly after Confederate general Robert E. Lee or a different member of that family, but the RAC subcommittee felt that the association could create confusion if the name is left in place.

The Fairfax County School Board voted to rename Springfield’s Lee High School, which was explicitly named after Robert E. Lee, after the civil rights activist and late Rep. John Lewis in July 2020.

The inspiration for Sully District’s moniker is less ambiguous, stemming from the county’s Sully Historic Site that was once a plantation owned by Richard Bland Lee, Northern Virginia’s first Congressional representative.

“Lee named the land he inherited Sully in 1789 and for twenty years under his charge the Sully Plantation was the location of commercial activity and profit from the kidnapping, human trafficking, and abuse of over one hundred lives — men, women and children,” the RAC report said.

The RAC also considered the Mason, Mount Vernon and Springfield districts as potential renaming candidates, but ultimately voted against recommending changes. Read More

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Among other changes, Fairfax County is proposing to create two Westbriar precincts after the existing one was split by redistricting (via Fairfax County)

More than half of Fairfax County’s 247 voting precincts need to be revised to eliminate conflicts created by last year’s redistricting process.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted yesterday (Tuesday) to hold a public hearing on March 8 to get feedback on proposed boundary adjustments that will consolidate precincts, create new ones, and move or establish new polling places.

The changes would affect 154 precincts, 54 which were split by the new electoral district maps drawn by the Virginia Supreme Court. Another 100 will be affected by the county’s efforts to fix the split districts.

A total of 29,000 registered voters, or 4% of the voter roll, would be affected by the changes, according to the county.

The county underwent its own redistricting process last year, with the board ultimately approving maps in December that moved seven precincts. The new maps received a certificate of no objection from the Virginia Attorney General’s office in January.

However, the Virginia General Assembly passed an amendment in 2020 that prohibited the use of split precincts except in very limited cases, requiring precincts to be contained within a single magisterial, state senate, delegate, or congressional district. It also bars localites from creating a new precinct with more than 5,000 voters.

Before the amendment’s passage, a single precinct could serve voters in two different legislative districts, so voters would receive different ballots based on the district they resided.

The amendment specifically says a split precinct can only be legal is if the area has less than 100 voters, and the split can’t be avoided.

The Fairfax County Office of Elections’ plan for addressing the currently split precincts has to follow four guidelines:

  • Disrupt the fewest voters possible
  • Ensure the affected precinct boundaries and polling places meet all legal requirements, such as location and accessibility
  • Provide adequate parking and other facilities at polling places
  • Minimize the number of extremely small or extremely large precincts

Once the changes are approved by the Board of Supervisors, they must be reviewed by the Virginia Office of the Attorney General, which could take up to 60 days, and meet the standards set by the U.S. Voting Rights Act.

The county is required to have the plan in place before the primary elections on June 21. A full list of the proposed changes can be found in the package for yesterday’s board meeting.

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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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