Tysons, VA

The Town of Vienna’s election is underway, and voters have less than four hours to vote in-person or drop off their ballots.

As masked voters file into the Vienna Community Center or drive to the  Fairfax County Government Center to drop off their ballots in a special box, Tysons Reporter is exploring what civic duty looks like during a pandemic.

Voter turnout has typically fluctuated between 5% and 23% for the town’s elections for the last 20 years. But that may change this year.

“Traditionally, for municipal elections, it’s hard to get a good turnout,” Councilmember Howard Springsteen, who is running for the mayor’s seat, told Tysons Reporter.

Starting in March, Fairfax County officials took to social media to encourage Vienna voters to use the “disability or illness” box when requesting absentee ballots, hoping that mail-in ballots would decrease long lines for in-person voting.

The reminders worked. Vienna voters requested more than 3,200 absentee ballots, according to the town.

There are roughly 11,800 registered voters in the town, according to the state election department. If all of the absentee ballots are completed and submitted, that would put the voter turnout percentage around 27% — not including in-person voting.

“I think voter turnout will be higher than we’ve had in a while,” Mayor Laurie DiRocco told Tysons Reporter.

Voters weren’t the only ones urged to do their civic duty by voting from home.

DiRocco, who is retiring when her term ends this June, told Tysons Reporter on Friday that she asked all of the candidates to stay away from the Vienna Community Center today (Tuesday) to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

In previous years, it has been “very much of a social gathering,” according to DiRocco, who added that people would bring picnics and socialize with one another outside of the 40-foot distance line as people prepared to vote.

“I had reached out to the candidates and recommend we do not show up at the election,” DiRocco said. “All of the candidates agreed to that, which I thought was really good.”

But DiRocco sounded frustrated when she told Tysons Reporter that she received messages from people this morning “who were a little nervous” because they spotted mayoral candidate Pasha Majdi outside the Vienna Community Center.

“I don’t know what else to say at this point,” DiRocco said, stressing that it’s important to respect public health and safety concerns for voters.

Majdi told Tysons Reporter that he was about 300 feet away from the community center — “I could not throw a football from across the street.”

“We thought it would be a nice gesture to thank people for voting by waving from across the street, several hundred feet [away] from the polls,” he said.

The decision of whether or not to stand outside the polling place was never a dilemma before the pandemic, and it is not the only issue that candidates recently faced as Northern Virginia’s coronavirus numbers continue to rise.

Many of the candidates responded to Tysons Reporter’s inquiry about how the pandemic changed their campaign strategy, saying that social media has played a larger role in getting their messages out.

“My team of supporters and I had to change the game plan,” mayoral candidate and current Councilmember Linda Colbert said.

Colbert said that she started her campaign this year with the goal of getting to “every house in Vienna.” Instead, she ended up writing a letter to every resident instead.

Traditional face-to-face methods of interacting with voters — going door-to-door, attending events and handing out campaign literature — are moot while social distancing guidelines and the stay-at-home order are in effect.

“Voters in Vienna appreciate it when candidates knock on their doors and take a few minutes to answer questions before leaving a pamphlet,” Roy Baldwin, a councilmember candidate, said. “Since early March, none of that has been possible — the last thing I would want to do would be to either pick up or unwittingly spread the coronavirus by such close contact.”

Baldwin said that this campaign is “certainly nothing” like the one he ran in 2016.

“I’ve gone to the phone a lot more, and to email, text messages, and Facebook posts, as well as traditional mailers and print ads,” he said, adding that he’s even done Zoom conferences.

Ray Brill Jr., a councilmember candidate who said face-to-face “was to be the cornerstone of my campaign,” said that he pivoted to social media, word-of-mouth, signs and mailings to reach voters.

Brill also said that sharing his message through candidate essays, like he did for Tysons Reporter, “gave voters the opportunity to compare and contrast each candidate’s position on key issues facing the Town of Vienna so they could make an informed decision before they voted.”

Brill isn’t the only candidate missing in-person communication.

“I much prefer face-to-face. I don’t think you have a dialogue with people on social media,” Springsteen, who is running for the mayor’s seat, told Tysons Reporter. “I don’t get a lot of feedback [from voters].”

He said that he’s relied on boosting Facebook posts and sent out two mailings — a letter and a postcard — this year, adding that he’s put out fewer yard signs to reduce in-person contact.

While he said he’s “getting a lot of hits on my website,” he said that posting online can feel like putting a message out into a void.

Limited traditional campaigning tactics have forced some candidates to get creative.

“I have no idea if it will translate into votes, but my daily bike rides with the Choose Chuck velocipede has at least brought smiles to people’s faces,” councilmember candidate Chuck Anderson said.

Anderson noted that he keeps “at least 20 feet” away from people while on his bike rides down the middle of the street.

“With a number of neighbors strolling the streets, I have been able to get my name out, at least, to a large number of voters,” he said.

Colbert, a mayoral candidate, turned to daily videos.

“One day I posted a video expressing my concerns for town residents and businesses,” Colbert said. “After receiving positive feedback, I did it another day until I was doing it every day.”

Some of the biggest COVID-19 challenges have impacted the candidates’ jobs more than their campaigns.

“My day job is dealing with the coronavirus,” councilmember candidate Ed Somers said. “So I’m certainly busier in my day job… I think the challenge is the balance of doing what I need to do for work and doing the outreach I need to do for the campaign.”

Majdi shared a similar sentiment, saying that he shifted his focus away from the campaign more to his duties as a current councilmember.

“Campaigning has taken a back seat to the COVID-19 response,” Majdi said. “The top priority is public health and safety.”

Still, Majdi is talking to voters over the phone, and Somers is relying on his network to vouch for him.

“I’ve found [the campaign] to be a good experience,” Somers said, adding that he thinks online communication has “made us more authentic… [since] we’re going more off our instincts.”

Photo via Fairfax County Votes/Twitter

Ashley Hopko contributed to this story, photo (2) courtesy Chuck Anderson

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Fairfax County is “urgently” looking for people to help out at the polls for the primary on June 23.

While the county is strongly encouraging voters to absentee vote by mail for this election, election officers are still needed — especially bilingual people in Falls Church who speak Korean or Vietnamese, the county says. Bilingual speakers are also needed in Annandale and Centreville.

The county has taken to social media to find at least 200 election officers for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives primary.

More from the county on measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus at the polls:

To protect election officers and voters, the Office of Elections will take precautions that include:

  • Providing face coverings, gloves and hand sanitizer for every election officer.
  • Limiting the number of voters in the room at the same time.
  • Requiring voters to maintain a social distance of six feet from each other and election officers.

Election officers help to set up voting equipment, check photo IDs, provide assistance to voters and tabulate results.

People who are registered to vote in Virginia can sign up online by next Friday, May 15, and can choose to volunteer their time or earn at least $175.

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For the upcoming election in the Town of Vienna, Fairfax County wants residents to vote using an absentee ballot.

The county issued a statement on Tuesday (March 17) reminding voters that they can mail in their ballots.

People who don’t feel comfortable going out to vote on May 5 because of COVID-19 concerns can request an absentee ballot, according to the Virginia Department of Elections.

To qualify for an absentee ballot, people must choose the “disability or illness” box during the application process, Fairfax County’s website said, adding that the last day to register for an absentee ballot is April 28, at 5 p.m.

“Voters who choose the absentee option should do so as soon as possible so they can get their ballots in time to return them by mail by Election Day,” the website said.

Absentee voting begins on March 20, according to the website.

Several candidates are competing for seats on the Vienna Town Council.

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Updated 2/28/2020 — Adds number of polling places in schools.

Students at Fairfax County’s public schools will get to stay home on March 3 for Super Tuesday.

Large crowds are expected to turn out for the primary election in Virginia. Brian Worthy, a spokesperson for the county, said that 167 polling places will be in the schools for voters casting their ballots for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Some of those polling spots will be at public schools, including George Marshall High School in Falls Church and Langley High School in McLean.

The county’s school board voted last spring to make Super Tuesday a student holiday for the 2019-2020 school year.

While students will have the day off, staff will still need to report to the schools, Lucy Caldwell, an FCPS spokesperson, said.

Eligible voters can find their polling location on the Virginia Department of Elections website or the My Neighborhood App.

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Super Tuesday” is in March — but Fairfax County is reminding voters about absentee voting and seeking election officers now.

Absentee voting for the 2020 presidential primary starts later this week on Friday, Jan. 17.

The deadline to register to vote in the March 3 primary is Feb. 10. People can check their voter eligibility on the Virginia State Board of Elections website.

Last week, the county announced that it needs 2,100 election officers for the primary.

The Office of Elections especially is looking for bilingual officers who speak Korean or Vietnamese for the Falls Church area, along with Annadel and Centreville, according to the county.

Election officers help set up voting equipment, check photo IDs and tabulate poll results. Compensation starts at $175 or people can choose to volunteer their time.

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The three incumbents for the Falls Church City Council — David Tarter, Phil Duncan and Letty Hardi — won reelection yesterday.

The city announced the official results today, saying that 45% of the 9,910 active, registered voters in the city voted in the election.

“The last ‘off-year election’ (with no federal or gubernatorial races on the ballot) was Nov. 3, 2015, where 42.1% of active voters participated,” the press release said.

Here are the results for the City Council race:

  • Letty C. Hardi: 31.1%
  • David Tarter: 30.3%
  • Philip Duncan: 25.2%
  • Stuart Whitaker: 12.5%

The councilmembers will be sworn in on Monday, Dec. 9, at 7:30 p.m. in Council Chambers (300 Park Avenue). The City Council will then vote on the mayor and vice mayor on Monday, Jan. 6.

For the city’s school board, Philip Reitinger was re-elected and will be joined by newcomers Susan Dimock and Laura Downs.

Here are the results for the school board race:

  • Laura Downs: 31.5%
  • Susan Dimock: 30%
  • Philip Reitinger: 24.1%
  • Douglass Stevens: 13.7%

Democrat Parisa Dehghani-Tafti was newly elected as the Commonwealth’s Attorney for Arlington County and the City of Falls Church.

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Come January, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is set to see four new faces — and all of them are Democrats.

Democrat Dalia Palchik defeated her Republican opponent for the Providence District seat, which represents Tysons and Merrifield.

In addition to Palchik, new faces on the 10-member board will include Democrats James Walkinshaw for the Braddock District, Walter Alcorn for the Hunter Mill District and Rodney Lusk for the Lee District, according to unofficial election results.

Voters reelected Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust, along with Penny Gross (Mason District), Daniel Storck (Mount Vernon), Kathy Smith (Sully) and Pat Herrity (Springfield).

With Republican John Cook, who represents the Braddock District, retiring, Herrity will be the only Republican on the board.

Current Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay won the board’s chair.

In a celebratory newsletter thanking her supporters, Palchik wrote, “I am proud to be the first Latina to hold this position.”

Palchik, who currently who is the Providence District member on the Fairfax County School Board, ran on a platform focused on education funding and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

In an interview with Tysons Reporter, Palchik said that she wants to tackle affordable housing — “the number one challenge… in the Tysons area” — and finding solutions to the last mile challenge.

“Big Win” for Democrats

Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-34) called yesterday’s election a “big win” for Democrats in Virginia. For the first time since 1993, Democrats took control of both the State Senate and the House of Delegates.

Murphy told attendees at a Democratic watch party last night to think about the “misery we felt” when former Rep. Barbara Comstock won the 10th congressional district.

“We never wanted to feel that way again,” Murphy. “So what did we do? We went out and we won.”

Voters Approve Funding for Public School Renovations

Fairfax County voters also OK’d a $360 million school bond referendum that includes $2 million in planning funds for a new “Silver Line elementary school,” along with:

  • $19.5 million in construction funds for adding an addition to Madison High School in Vienna
  • $49.6 million in construction funds for renovating Cooper Middle School in McLean
  • $1.7 million in planning funds for renovating Louise Archer Elementary School in Vienna

Fairfax County uses bonds to pay for renovating and building new schools.

Kalina Newman contributed to this story. 

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(Updated at 10:30 p.m.) School Board member Dalia Palchik defeated Republican Eric Anthony Jones to win the Providence District seat on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

Meanwhile, John Foust was reelected to the Dranesville District seat, defeating his Republican opponent Ed Martin. Foust was first elected to the county board in 2007.

Palchik received roughly 70 percent of the vote, while Foust received about 64 percent of the vote — voting figures cited are unofficial.

Palchik celebrated her win at the Arlington-Fairfax Elks Lodge in Fairfax with Karl Frisch, who won the Providence District seat on the Fairfax County School Board, and Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross, who won reelection.

Palchik will replace Linda Smyth, who announced last December that she wouldn’t run for reelection this year.

“I’m overjoyed. It’s been a long year,” Palchik told Tysons Reporter. “We’ve come out with a stronger community and a stronger county.”

Meanwhile, at the watch party at the McLean Community Center for Foust and other Democratic candidates, attendees appeared stressed around 8 p.m. when an “error” message appeared on the Virginia Department of Election’s webpage with the live results.

“People who care about our future are being elected to office,” Foust told Tysons Reporter. “I think the type of leadership we need to move forward in Fairfax County is in place.”

Current Lee District Supervisor Jeffrey McKay won the Board of Supervisors’ chair with roughly 65 percent of the vote, beating Republican Joe Galdo.

Democrat Steve Descano won the race for the Commonwealth’s Attorney position in Fairfax. Descano ousted current Commonwealth’s Attorney Raymond Morrogh in the June primary.

Democrat Elaine Tholen won the Dranesville District Seat on the Fairfax County School Board.

More from social media:

Catherine Douglas Moran, Ashley Hopko and Kalina Newman contributed to this story.

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Updated at 4:25 p.m. — As of 4:23 p.m., county-wide turnout is at 25.1% for in-person voters, Fairfax County tweeted.

With just a few hours left before the polls close this evening, Tysons-area voter turnout has steadily increased throughout the day.

Contested races are underway for the Providence and Dranesville District seats and the chair on the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.

As of 1 p.m., voter turnout was at 15.9% in the Providence District, 18.2% in the Hunter Mill District and 18.4% in the Dranesville District, Fairfax County tweeted.

Around 2 p.m., Tysons Reporter spotted a full parking lot outside George Marshall High School (7731 Leesburg Pike). As of 1:57 p.m., 991 people had voted at the high school.

A polling official at Marshall told Tysons Reporter that it’s been a “great steady flow” all day.

The Chief Election Official at Langley High School in McLean told Tysons Reporter earlier today that most voters tend to come between 5 p.m. and when the polls close at 7 p.m.

Registered voters can find their polling locations with the My Neighborhood Map or through the portal on the Virginia Department of Elections website.

Tysons Reporter interviewed the candidates running for the Providence and Dranesville District seats on the Board of Supervisors: Dalia Palchik, Eric Anthony Jones, John Foust and Ed Martin.

Additionally, we have a guide about who is running in the local races for the Tysons area.

Kalina Newman and Catherine Douglas Moran contributed to this story.

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Today is the last chance for Fairfax County voters to head to the polls.

More than half of the seats are contested on both the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and School Board.

While many of the Board of Supervisors candidates are incumbents — like John Foust, Penny Gross and Pat Herrity — some new faces are also vying for seats due to officials retiring, like Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins and Providence District Supervisor Linda Smyth.

Voters will also decide the fate of a $360 million bond referendum for Fairfax County Public Schools.

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