Tysons, VA

(Updated at 11:10 a.m.) The Town of Vienna’s election concluded yesterday (Tuesday) with all three incumbent councilmembers in contention retaining their seats.

Howard Springsteen, Steve Potter, and Nisha Patel were comfortably reelected in an election that saw turnout plummet after hitting a record high last year, when there was a mayoral race on the ballot and seven candidates vying for three town council seats.

This time, there were just four candidates competing for three seats, with Springsteen seeking his sixth term on the council and Potter and Patel looking to get reelected for the first time. Planning Commissioner David Patariu was the sole challenger.

In a statement to Tysons Reporter, Springsteen thanked voters for the support and vote of confidence.

“I am honored to serve and will always be available to Vienna residents to discuss issues of concern,” he said. “Congratulations to Steve Potter and Nisha Patel on their reelection to council. I look forward to working for the betterment of Vienna.”

In a Facebook post acknowledging the election’s results, Patariu says that, while he fell short of winning office, he believes his campaign helped bring attention to key issues, such as traffic on residential streets, the slow progress on funding sidewalk construction, and complaints about the town’s mulching operation on Beulah Road.

“I brought the Town Council’s focus back to issues facing residents,” Patariu said. “My dissent from the Town Council’s views on many of the issues above should provide a path for future action by residents.”

According to the Fairfax County Office of Elections, which managed the election, the unofficial vote totals are:

The results will be finalized after noon on Friday (May 7), when any remaining mailed ballots must be received.

1,968 out of 11,659 registered voters cast ballots in the election, amounting to a 16.9% turnout compared to the 36.5% of voters who participated in last year’s town election. 1,311 voters went to the polls in person on election day, while 657 people voted absentee, either by mail or in person.

Turnout for Vienna’s elections typically fell anywhere from 5% to 23% before the May 2020 election, which served as a prelude to a general election in November that also saw robust participation.

This election was notable, however, for being the last one that the Town of Vienna will ever hold in May. A bill passed by the Virginia General Assembly in February and signed by Gov. Ralph Northam on March 12 shifted all municipal elections in the state to November, starting on Jan. 1, 2022.

State Sen. Chap Petersen, who represents Vienna, and some town leaders took issue with the change, arguing that separate, town-only elections allow voters to focus on local issues, but the Fairfax County Office of Elections says the move will increase voter participation and save Vienna money, since the town currently has to reimburse the county for some election-related costs.

“The Turnout in future elections held in November will be much higher — as much as four-fold,” Fairfax County General Registrar Scott Konopasek told Tysons Reporter by email. “Whether or not that will change winners and losers remains to be seen.”

Photo courtesy Town of Vienna

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When early voting began at the North County Government Center in Reston on Saturday (April 24), the crowd of electioneers assembled outside the building dwarfed the number of people casting their ballots inside the building.

The absence of lines contrasted sharply with the 2020 general election, when Fairfax County sometimes saw hour-long waits at early voting sites. This time, the biggest hold-up was the few extra seconds election volunteers needed to sort through 16 different ballots and match them with the right voters.

While not surprised by the relatively muted turnout for the first days of early voting for the June 8 Democratic primary, which started on April 23 at the Fairfax County Government Center before expanding to two satellite locations a day later, Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn says it’s too soon to make any confident projections about what early voting will look like in the future.

“Going through a couple of election cycles, I think we need to do that before we can come to any long-term conclusions about how early voting is best done, how to staff it, what resources are necessary,” he said.

Even with a crowded gubernatorial contest on the ballot, the 2021 election cycle likely won’t match the high turnout for last year’s general election, which was buoyed by an especially heated presidential race, but there is already evidence that the Virginia’s new laws permanently expanding the accessibility of absentee voting are paying off.

According to the nonprofit Virginia Public Access Project, 63,508 voters have requested mail ballots, and 709 people have voted in person, as of April 24. In comparison, there were just 35,390 early voters in the 2017 primaries, the last time that Virginia had a governor’s race, and that includes 8,815 people who requested mail ballots but never returned them.

Fairfax County has gotten 11,222 mail ballot requests and 68 in-person voters. In 2017, 3,109 people voted early in person, and 1,919 people voted by mail.

Fairfax County Office of Elections spokesperson Brian Worthy attributes this uptick to recent legislative changes made by the Virginia General Assembly, particularly the introduction of no-excuse absentee voting that took effect last year.

“Since the last gubernatorial election, voting by mail has become easier in Virginia,” Worthy said. “Not only can any registered voter do so without needing a reason as was required in the past, but also the law now makes it easy to vote by mail permanently. As a result, the Office of Elections expects to see an increase in voting by mail over time as has happened in other states that have implemented similar laws.”

Legislators took further action to make early voting more accessible during a special session in March, including requiring localities to offer ballot drop-off boxes, permitting absentee voting on Sundays, and suspending witness signature requirements during the COVID-19 pandemic, though those laws don’t take effect until July 1.

Early voting is also “way up” in Falls Church City compared to the last gubernatorial primary, according to Director of Elections and General Registrar David Bjerke.

Bjerke told Tysons Reporter on Friday (April 23) that the city had sent out 315 ballots so far, including 176 mail ballots and 139 email ballots to overseas voters, and three people showed up to vote in person that day. The 2017 primary saw just 240 early voters total, even though the Democratic and Republican parties both held elections that summer.

“It’s a huge increase,” Bjerke said. Read More

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Morning Notes

Early Voting Begins Today — At 9 a.m., Fairfax County voters can start casting their ballots for the June 8 Democratic primary. Early voting has expanded from previous years, with all registered voters now allowed to participate and the county immediately offering three locations with Saturday hours. [Fairfax County Government]

McLean Downtown Plan Public Hearing Pushed Back — The Fairfax County Planning Commission will defer a public hearing on the McLean Community Business Center study that was scheduled for next Wednesday (April 28). A new date for the public to comment on the much-debated draft plan will be announced on April 28. [Fairfax County Planning Commission]

I-66 West in Dunn Loring Closed Tonight — “All lanes of I-66 West approaching I-495 will be closed during the overnight hours Friday, April 23, to allow for continued installation of bridge beams for new ramps at the I-66/I-495 Interchange. All I-66 West traffic will be detoured around the closure via Route 7 (Leesburg Pike) West and I-495 South.” [VDOT]

Man Arrested for Capital Beltway Crashes — Virginia State Police arrested a 26-year-old man yesterday (Thursday) for allegedly crashing into two vehicles around the 53-mile marker of I-495 in Fairfax County and punching the drivers in an attempt to carjack their vehicles. The suspect is in custody in Maryland with charges pending as he awaits extradition to Virginia. [WTOP]

Fire Temporarily Closes Vienna’s Church Street — Fairfax County Fire and Rescue units responded to a fire in the basement of a building on the 100 block of Church Street NE in Vienna yesterday. The fire was extinguished with no reported injuries, but the activity temporarily closed the road between Center and Mill streets. [Patch]

Capital One Airport Lounge Coming to Dulles — “Capital One Financial Corp. plans to open its Dulles International Airport lounge sometime in 2022 and we now have renderings that show what the 9,100-square-foot space could look like. The Dulles location will be the second of a network of lounges the McLean-based financial giant is branding, Capital One (NYSE: COF) announced Monday.” [Washington Business Journal]

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Later this week, Fairfax County will kick off voting for its second pandemic primary, and the county officials running the election are applying a few lessons from the last year of early and mail-in voting.

Early voting for the Democratic primary is scheduled to start this Friday (April 23) and will be open to all voters registered in the county.

Voters in last year’s election faced long lines as they waited to turn in their ballots early, but Fairfax County General Registrar and Director of Elections Gary Scott, who is retiring from the position this year, said that scenario is unlikely in this year’s elections.

“What we’re doing is trying to incorporate some of the things we did observe,” Scott said. “There are lessons learned from the general election that don’t necessarily translate well to a primary election. We’re looking at a different electorate and a different level of turnout. But we’re opening more than one location early.”

Scott says that, in addition to the Fairfax County Government Center (12000 Government Center Parkway), the county will open the North County Government Center (1801 Cameron Glen Drive) and the Mount Vernon Government Center (2511 Parkers Lane) for early voting on Saturday, April 24.

For the last week of the primary, the county will open an additional 13 early voting sites starting on May 29. Sites in the Tysons area include the Providence Community Center, the McLean Governmental Center, and Tysons-Pimmit and Thomas Jefferson libraries.

“For the last week, we will have a total of 16 locations where people will vote,” Scott said. “And we’ve extended hours from 4:30 p.m. to, now, 7 p.m. We wanted to extend further after working hours.”

Scott says it can be difficult to estimate how many voters there will be.

The last gubernatorial primary in 2017 had a 13% turnout, but that year had both a Republican and Democrat primary. This year, it’s Democrat-only, but Scott says his office is still preparing for a 40% turnout, even if that is viewed as extremely unlikely.

“Ordering paper ballots is relatively cheap after a certain point, and I’d rather have 10,000 ballots too many than 10,000 ballots too few,” he said.

Those voting in person should not submit an application to receive a ballot by mail, though anyone who requests a mail ballot can still surrender it when they check in if they decide to vote in-person instead.

“If you submit an application, you’re going to be sent a ballot by mail, and you’d have to return that ballot to back it out in order to vote in person,” Scott explained.

There will be drop boxes around the county after Gov. Ralph Northam signed a bill into law on March 31 making permanent a measure that was adopted temporarily last year. Drop boxes will be available at all early voting sites and polling places for those who want to drop off their ballot, according to Scott.

The deadline to register to vote in Fairfax County is May 19 — 22 days prior to the election. The Democratic primary is scheduled for June 8. Virginia is an open-primary state, so the primary is open to all voters.

“There are no Republican races in Fairfax County, so if you’re showing up to vote for republican candidates…there aren’t any,” Scott said. “For top of ticket, they chose convention, and some House of Delegates races had only one qualified candidate for primary.”

In addition to the statewide governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general races, voters in six districts have House of Delegates races on the primary ballot:

“We would encourage people, before they go out to vote, to review sample ballots we will have posted on our website,” Scott said. “So, if they go to vote, they’re prepared, because not everyone in the county is going to see the same ballot.”

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Morning Notes

Early Voting Underway for Vienna Town Council Election — Vienna residents can cast an early ballot in the May 4 town council election at the Fairfax County Government Center. Voters who register by April 12 can also apply for a mail absentee ballot. In-person early voting ends at 5 p.m. on May 1, and mailed ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and arrive at the Fairfax County Office of Elections by noon on May 7. [Town of Vienna/Twitter]

Church Street Pizza No Longer on Church Street — Vienna’s New York-style pizza eatery has moved out of its longtime home at 113 Church Street NE and into a new space at 115 Maple Avenue W, which also houses a Potomac River Running store. Church Street Pizza is still offering contact-free takeout, curbside pickup, and delivery. [Lombardi’s Pizza]

Vienna and Falls Church to Compete in Fitness Challenge — Vienna, Falls Church, and Fairfax are squaring off in the first-ever Mayors’ Fitness Challenge, which will begin on April 3 and conclude on May 29 with a winning locality being dubbed the “Most Fit Community of 2021.” Community members can register for free at any time and will be tasked with tracking their physical activity each day. [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Asphalt Work on Old Meadow Road Postponed Indefinitely — The left lane closure on Old Meadow Road approaching Route 123 in Tysons that had been scheduled to start at 9 a.m. tomorrow (Saturday) has now been “postponed until further notice.” The planned minor asphalt repair work stems from the ongoing realignment of Old Meadow Road with Capital One Tower Drive at Dolley Madison Boulevard. [Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project]

Tysons Partnership Report Shows Milestones, Struggles — Released on March 31, the Tysons Partnership’s 2021 annual report highlights the economic challenges that Tysons has faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in its hospitality, retail, and entertainment sectors. The past year has also seen a sharp drop in Metro ridership, while introducing new virtual and outdoor events, like drive-in movie screenings, and new businesses like the now-open Wegmans. [Sun Gazette]

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Morning Notes

Police Pursue Driver on Arlington Boulevard — A Centreville driver was arrested after driving through two red lights, one at Cedar Lane and another at Jaguar Trail, and hitting another vehicle. An officer was in pursuit of the driver after he drove through the first red light and refused to stop. Both drivers involved in the collision were taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. [Fairfax County Police Department]

Young Renters Make Up One-Third of Tysons’ Population — “So, who are the 28,000 people living in Tysons? If Esri is right, it’s largely well-off professionals who value urban amenities. Whether that will remain the case as Tysons works toward its 100,000-resident target remains to be seen.” [Greater Greater Washington]

Tysons Augmented Reality Company Acquired — The German company TeamViewer, which “provides remote connectivity solutions,” acquired Upskill, an augmented reality software company founded in Tysons in 2010. Upskill’s software platform Skylight “enables organizations to deploy augmented reality applications across hardware like smart glasses and mobile devices.” [Technical.ly]

Virginia Set to Become First Southern State with Voting Rights Act — Now awaiting Gov. Ralph Northam’s signature after passing the General Assembly, the new law “will require local election officials to go through a review process before making election-related decisions like consolidating or closing polling places, changing district boundaries, creating at-large seats on local governing bodies or school boards or affecting the ability of non-English speakers to vote.” [Virginia Mercury]

Financial Expert Skeptical of MicroStrategy Bitcoin-Buying Spree — “MicroStrategy Inc.’s high-profile Bitcoin buying spree is “irresponsible” and makes the business intelligence software company vulnerable, according to a financial expert. The Tysons company has purchased about $2.186 billion in bitcoins, which amounts to 90,859 bitcoins at about $24,063 each, according to recent Securities and Exchange Commission filings.” [Washington Business Journal]

Vienna Police Provide Live Feed of Station Construction — The Vienna Police Department has set up a camera so that community members can watch the progress of construction on its new station in real time. People can also get weekly updates by subscribing to Vienna’s police highlights alerts. [Vienna Police/Twitter, Town of Vienna/Twitter]

Photo by Joanne Liebig

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Thursday Morning Notes

More Pharmacies to Administer COVID-19 Vaccine — “Giant Pharmacy and MyDr.’s Pharmacy have joined the list of vaccination partners who are assisting the Health Department in its efforts to vaccinate eligible individuals in its queue…All vaccinations occur by appointment only, there are no walk-ins.” [Fairfax County Health Department]

Senate Drops Amendment Tying Metro Funding to McLean Station Name — Sen. Janet Howell (D-32nd District) says she is pulling her amendment that would have made $165 million in funding for Metro contingent on adding “Capital One Hall” to the McLean station’s name after the transit agency agreed to install wayfinding signs for the new performance venue and speed up construction of a second entrance to the station. [The Washington Post]

McLean Resident Wins $2 Million in Lottery — “Accidents happen, but sometimes the outcome turns out better than you’d expect. For one McLean resident, buying too many Powerball tickets turned into a $2 million win.” [McLean Patch]

General Assembly Makes Last Year’s Voting Changes Permanent — “Both the Virginia House of Delegates and the Senate approved legislation that creates drop boxes for collecting absentee ballots; makes it easier for someone to get on the list of permanent absentee voters; pays the postage for mail-in ballots, and allows voters to correct errors on absentee ballots.” [WTOP]

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The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors praised election workers and volunteers yesterday (Tuesday) for their work on the 2020 general election, which presented local voters with new opportunities and unprecedented obstacles.

With voters turning out in record numbers, Fairfax County’s election staff had to adapt to the logistical challenges introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic on top of implementing a slew of new state laws to improve voting accessibility, including the introduction of no-excuse absentee voting and the elimination of photo identification requirements.

“There’s no doubt we had an amazing year,” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck said. “[The election staff] came through with flying colors, and we definitely have to recognize that and appreciate that.”

While this year’s 79.4% turnout rate fell short of the 82.5% high mark set in 2016, the 605,023 ballots cast for the Nov. 3 general election were the most in Fairfax County history. There were also about 80,000 more active registered voters than in 2016 and only 25,667 inactive voters, compared to 64,041 in 2016.

Fairfax County Electoral Board Secretary Katherine Hanley confirmed again in a presentation to the Board of Supervisors that absentee voting drove turnout this year, with only 186,253 people voting in person on Election Day, an even lower number than election officials predicted.

By contrast, there were 414,381 absentee votes. The county received 222,003 by-mail absentee ballots, including approximately 85,000 that were returned through a drop box, and 192,398 people voted in person before Election Day at one of 15 early voting locations.

Fairfax County also had 4,389 provisional ballots.

According to Hanley, the Fairfax County Office of Elections contacted 2,113 voters about small issues with their mail ballots. 1,315 of those voters fixed their ballots, a 63% cure rate.

One thing that surprised election officials was the 17,633 ballots that were either surrendered or goldenrod, meaning that it was never received, lost, or left at home by the voter.

“That’s a much bigger number than we thought there would be,” Hanley said.

Because COVID-19 both triggered and coincided with so many changes in Virginia’s election policies, it is difficult to tell whether 2020 was an anomaly or a harbinger of long-lasting shifts in voter behavior, Hanley says. Read More

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600,238 voters – or 78.8% – of Fairfax County’s 761,573 active registered voters participated in this year’s general election, more than two-thirds of them absentee in Virginia’s first election with no-excuse absentee voting.

Based on unofficial results from the Fairfax County Office of Elections, that likely sets a record for the most votes cast in an election in Fairfax County history, but the turnout rate falls short of the 2012 and 2016 general elections, which both had rates of 80.5% and 82.5%, respectively.

“This election year was unlike any other we have ever seen,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay said. “Our turnout throughout the process was truly encouraging and spoke to our residents’ faith in the democratic process.”

Though precinct-level results reveal some differences, Fairfax County voters as a whole clearly favored Democrats in this year’s election, supporting Joe Biden over incumbent President Donald Trump and reelecting Sen. Mark Warner, Rep. Don Beyer (8th District), Rep. Jennifer Wexton (10th District), and Rep. Gerry Connolly (11th District) to Congress.

Of the county’s nine districts, Hunter Mill had the highest voter turnout for the 2020 general election.

More than 81% of Hunter Mill District’s 93,193 active registered voters cast a ballot in the Nov. 3 election, either in person on Election Day or absentee. The district is also the only one in the county with over 90,000 active registered voters as of Oct. 30.

Springfield District had the second highest turnout at 80.8%, followed by Dranesville in terms of the percentage of voters who participated in the election (80.1%) or by Sully in terms of the total number of votes cast (71,082 to the 70,186 ballots recorded by Dranesville).

Springfield saw 23,333 in-person Election Day voters, the most in the county, while Hunter Mill voters cast the most absentee ballots with 55,134, though absentee voting surpassed in-person Election Day voting in all districts.

The gap between absentee voting and in-person Election Day voting was particularly wide in Providence District, where 50,814 of the district’s 87,100 active registered voters cast in in-person or by-mail absentee ballot and only 17,117 people voted on Election Day.

While the election results will not be official until they are certified on Nov. 16, all ballots are now in after the deadline for absentee ballots to be returned came at noon on Nov. 6.

The City of Falls Church, which held a special election to fill a vacant city council seat, saw a record turnout with 8,879 votes, though the 83.3% turnout rate fell short of the record 87.4% of active voters who cast ballots in the 2012 general election.

After Election Day, the city counted an additional 68 absentee ballots from drop boxes, by mail, and as federal write-ins, and officials accepted 25 provisional ballots, according to Falls Church City director of elections and general registrar David Bjerke.

Debora Schantz-Hiscott won the city council special election with 54% of the vote.

“We have a lot of work ahead. But I am excited for this opportunity,” Schantz-Hiscott said in a guest post for the Falls Church News-Press. “As we face tremendous uncertainty in our nation, it will take a village to see us through this crisis. Here in Falls Church City, I am certain we will rise to this occasion together.”

Staff Photo by Jay Westcott

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While Virginia’s U.S. Congressional delegation looks like it will remain largely unchanged after the 2020 general election, voters approved a state constitutional amendment that will reshape the process for how their representatives will be chosen in the future.

One of two statewide referendums on the ballot, Constitutional Amendment 1 shifts responsibility for drawing congressional and state legislative district lines from the Virginia General Assembly to a redistricting commission made up of eight legislators and eight appointed citizens.

According to the Virginia Department of Elections unofficial returns, Amendment 1 passed with 65.91% of voters casting their ballot in favor of it, though a few precincts had not yet reported results by Wednesday night and the results will not be official until they are certified on Nov. 16.

Fairfax County approved the measure by a smaller margin than the overall state, with 53.69% of voters supporting it and 46.31% opposing.

“From the start, this movement has been about putting the voices of citizens above politicians and political parties. Today, Virginia voters spoke loud and clear in approving Amendment 1,” Fair Maps VA executive director Brian Cannon and campaign co-chairs Wyatt Durrette and Bobby Vassar said in a joint statement on Wednesday (Nov. 4).

Fair Maps VA is a nonprofit advocacy organization formed in July by OneVirginia2021, the coalition of policymakers and citizens that spearheaded the redistricting commission proposal.

With Virginia set to redraw district lines next year, Fair Maps VA says the proposed commission will combat partisan gerrymandering by giving members of the public “a seat at the table” instead of leaving redistricting exclusively in the hands of legislators, as previously dictated by the Constitution of Virginia.

The General Assembly will vote on new district maps, but it will not be able to change them. If new maps are not approved by set deadlines, the Supreme Court of Virginia will draw them.

“In creating a bipartisan redistricting commission…[voters] said they want a transparent redistricting process,” Cannon, Durrette, and Vassar said. “They want civil rights protections to be added to the state constitution for the very first time. And they said that they want to end partisan gerrymandering in Virginia once and for all.” Read More

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