Morning Notes

Taking a walk on North Shore Drive (Photo via vantagehill/Flickr)

Fairfax County Commemorates COVID-19 Losses — The Northern Virginia Regional Commission held a COVID-19 Remembrance Ceremony at the Fairfax County Government Center last night to recognize the more than 2,350 lives that have been lost to the pandemic. The ceremony streamed live on Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay’s Facebook page.

Sunset Hills Road Sidewalk Closes for Reston Station Construction — “Beginning yesterday, June 8, the sidewalk on Sunset Hills Rd. near the intersection of Wiehle Ave. will be closed long-term due to the ongoing Comstock construction projectSee the map for closure area and alternative pedestrian route.” [Hunter Mill District News]

County Board Approves PIVOT Grant Program — The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday (June 8) to create a new grant program that will use $25 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to support businesses hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. The program will focus on the hotel, food service, retail, and arts and culture industries with applications scheduled to open from June 23 through July 9. [Fairfax County Government]

Democratic Primary Favors Moderates over Progressives — Three of the Virginia General Assembly’s most outspoken Democrats lost their seats on Tuesday (June 8), as voters largely opted for more moderate candidates backed by the party’s establishment. The upset incumbents included Herndon Del. Ibraheem Samirah as well as Prince William’s Del. Lee Carter and Del. Mark Levine of Alexandria. [Virginia Mercury]

Reston Chamber Offers Grants to Business — The Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce’s nonprofit subsidiary INCspire Education Foundation is launching a BizMaker Grant Program to “promote inclusive entrepreneurship and a diversity of economic opportunities for businesses committed to job creation and revenue generation within Fairfax County.” [Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce]

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Voting in Fairfax County (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 9:05 a.m. on 6/11/21) Yesterday’s Democratic primary for the 86th House District proved to be, by percentage points, one of the closest races in the entire Commonwealth.

When all the votes were tallied, including absentee ballots, challenger Irene Shin had beaten the incumbent Ibraheem Samirah by only 230 votes, or 3.48 percentage points. Shin is now set to face Republican and high school history teacher Julie Perry  in November’s general election.

In Fairfax County, which shares the district with a small portion of Loudoun County, the result was even tighter with Shin winning by fewer than 200 votes and 3.22 percentage points, according to the county office of elections’ unofficial returns.

Samirah’s ascension to the General Assembly in 2019 was part of a blue wave that solidified Virginia’s political transformation from reliably conservative to left-leaning. He conceded the primary via social media at 11:15 p.m. yesterday, saying that it was an honor to represent the 86th District and how proud he was of his campaign.

Shin declared victory via social media shortly thereafter, stating that “we made history tonight,” while thanking supporters and everyone who had endorsed her campaign.

In a letter that also went out to supporters last night, Shin wrote that the victory left her “completely overwhelmed.”

“Entering this race was not an easy decision. I knew that challenging an incumbent in a Delegate race would be difficult,” she wrote. “Together, we knocked over 12,000 doors and made tens of thousands of phone calls. We built a grassroots movement with support from across the district. From Reston to Herndon to Chantilly, we ran the whole district.”

Neither Samirah nor Shin thanked the other candidate.

Samirah was one of five incumbent candidates to lose last night, a record dating back to 2001.

First elected in February 2019, Samirah gained some level of fame later that year for disrupting a Trump speech in Jamestown by yelling, “Mr. President, you can’t send us back, Virginia is our home!”

While he found some support for touting progressive policies, his occasionally confrontational approach ruffled some feathers, and a number of prominent Virginia Democrats supported Shin in this election, including state Sens. Jennifer Boysko and Janet Howell as well as Herndon Mayor Sheila Olem.

“I look forward to working at my dental practice in Reston, spending time with family, and finding ways to unify the progressive movement in Northern Virginia,” Samirah told Reston Now by email.

Next door, in the 36th House District that encompasses Reston, Del. Ken Plum — the incumbent and the longest-serving member of the Virginia House of Delegates — won a decisive victory in the primary over challenger Mary Barthelson with more than 77% of the vote. Read More

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(Updated at 11:10 p.m.) Del. Ken Plum easily defeated his first primary opponent in more than two decades today (Tuesday), earning 75% of the vote, according to the Virginia Department of Elections’ unofficial results.

Plum has served as delegate for Virginia’s 34th House District, which encompasses Reston, since 1982, but he faced a rare Democratic challenger this year in data analyst and political newcomer Mary Barthelson, who announced her candidacy in March.

Plum will now face his first Republican challenger since 2011 in November’s general election, when he will vie for the seat with veteran and security consultant Matt Lang.

Herndon voters got a more competitive primary, as challenger Irene Shin eked out a victory in the 86th House District race over incumbent Del. Ibraheem Samirah, who was seeking his second full term in office.

After Fairfax County took a while to count absentee ballots, all 17 precincts were finally reported just after 11 a.m. Shin received 3,415 votes — or 51.7% — while Samirah got 3,185, or 48.3%, making the race the closest of the night that resulted in an incumbent defeat.

In the statewide races, former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe handily won the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nomination, receiving more than 60% of the votes cast — roughly three times as many votes as his nearest competitor, former Del. Jennifer Carroll Foy, who was seeking to become Virginia’s first Black, female governor.

Carroll Foy received about 20% of the vote, followed in descending order by state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, and Del. Lee Carter, who also lost his seat representing the 50th House District.

McAuliffe will compete in November’s general election against businessman Glenn Youngkin, who won the Republican gubernatorial nomination in an “unassembled” convention in May.

The Democratic ticket will be completed by Del. Hala Ayala (D-51st District), who beat six other candidates to snag the lieutenant governor nomination, and Attorney General Mark Herring, who bested challenger Jay Jones as he seeks a third consecutive term in the position.

The Republican Party nominated former Del. Winsome Sears for lieutenant governor and Virginia Beach Del. Jason Miyares for attorney general.

In its unofficial returns, the Fairfax County Office of Elections reported a voter turnout of 11.1%, a relatively low rate that’s not especially unusual for an off-year primary. The 2017 Democratic primary, the last year with a gubernatorial race on the ballot, saw a 13.4% turnout.

According to the county, 21,493 voters — 2.9% of the electorate — cast absentee ballots either by mail or in-person, while 60,999 people went to the polls on the day of the primary. In comparison, the 2017 Democratic primary saw just 7,105 absentee voters compared to 86,931 primary day voters.

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The Virginia Democratic Party is holding a primary tomorrow (Tuesday), and the ballot will feature some crowded races, including statewide contests for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.

The Republican Party chose to replace its primary this year with a convention in May to select statewide candidates. Some local races are also occurring in the state.

About 7,300 people in Fairfax County have voted early in person, and 50% of the vote-by-mail ballots requested by voters have been turned in so far, county spokesman Brian Worthy said in an email on Friday (June 4).

Here’s what to know:

Casting Your Ballot

Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. If you’re in line by 7 p.m., you will still be able to vote. You generally need an ID to vote, but alternative options are available, which includes signing a statement that says you are who you say you are. You can find your polling place online.

For absentee ballots, the deadline to hand deliver them is 7 p.m. Tuesday. They can be dropped off at polling sites, and other options are available. By mail, absentee ballots must be postmarked on or before June 8 and also received in the county elections office by noon on Friday (June 11).

Unofficial results will be posted on the county’s website on election night as well as the state elections’ website.

The Ballot

While the lieutenant governor race remains crowded, candidate Elizabeth Guzman withdrew from to focus on getting re-elected as a delegate for the 31st House District, which serves parts of Fauquier and Prince William counties. However, her name will still be on the ballot.

For the gubernatorial race, Virginia’s constitution bars governors from running for consecutive terms, preventing Gov. Ralph Northam from seeking re-election this year but opening the door for former Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

The state elections board previously drew candidates’ names randomly for their order on the ballot. They’re listed below, and sample ballots are available online.

Governor

Lieutenant Governor

Attorney General

House of Delegates — 36th District (Reston)

House of Delegates86th District (Herndon)

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Morning Notes

Fairfax County Mass Vaccine Site Adds Evening Hours — The community vaccination center at Tysons Corner will extend its operating hours to 8 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting tomorrow (June 8). The site is scheduled to close on June 26 as Virginia focuses its COVID-19 vaccine campaign on smaller, more mobile clinics instead of large-scale, standing sites. [Tysons Reporter]

Police Pursuit Town Hall Set for Thursday — The Fairfax County Police Department will hold a virtual town hall on Thursday (June 10) to get community input on proposed changes to its policy on vehicle pursuits. The new policy will place more limits on the kinds of situations when officers can engage in a pursuit in response to safety concerns. [Jeff McKay/Twitter]

Sterling Regal Movie Theater Sold to Homebuilder — “A team led by Willard Retail has sold the site of the shuttered Regal Countryside multiplex in Sterling for $22 million to Beazer Homes, more than a year after winning approval from the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors to redevelop the property as a 166-unit stacked townhome development.” [Washington Business Journal]

Democrats Make Final Primary Push — “Armies of door-knockers are fanning out across Virginia neighborhoods this weekend as Democrats make their final campaign push before selecting nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general in primary elections on Tuesday…Democratic voters will select their statewide candidates to go up against a Republican slate that was chosen by convention a month ago, setting the stage for what could be the most expensive Virginia gubernatorial election ever.” [The Washington Post]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Morning Notes

Fairfax County to Host COVID-19 Remembrance Ceremony — The Northern Virginia Regional Commission will hold a virtual ceremony next Wednesday (June 9) at the Fairfax County Government Center to honor the more than 2,350 people in the region who have died from COVID-19. Local officials will discuss the pandemic’s impact, and the event will conclude with a “last alarm” bell service courtesy of the Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department. [Fairfax County Government]

Reston’s First Homocide Remains a Mystery — 49 years after her death, the family of Gwen Ames is still hoping for answers, as Fairfax County police have yet to identify a suspect in the first murder recorded in Reston. A 17-year-old student at Herndon High School, Ames was killed on June 4, 1972 while walking home from a dance at Lake Anne Plaza. [Patch]

Democratic Governor Candidates Spar in Final Debate — The Democratic candidates to become Virginia’s next governor faced off in the last debate before the Democratic primary on Tuesday (June 8). Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who has been leading in polls, focused on attacking Republican nominee Glenn Youngkin, an approach that drew criticisms from his opponents. [WTOP]

Leidos Subsidary Lands NASA Contract — “Dynetics Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Reston-based Fortune 500 government contractor Leidos Holdings Inc., has received a potential $90 million contract from NASA to produce a laser air monitoring system (LAMS) for the agency’s Orion spacecraft, beginning with the Artemis III mission, which plans to return astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time since 1972’s Apollo 17 mission.” [Virginia Business]

Herndon High School Holds Graduation Ceremony — Herndon High School seniors got to graduate in person yesterday (Wednesday). Attendees included Hunter Mill District Supervisor Walter Alcorn, who congratulated the Class of 2021 on overcoming the challenges of the last year and said that “we can’t wait to see what your future holds.” [Walter Alcorn/Twitter]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Incumbent Del. Ibraheem Samirah (left) and challenger Irene Shin (right) are competing in the Democratic primary for the 86th District (Photos courtesy Ibraheem Samirah, Irene Shin)

Virginia’s political transformation over the past decade can be summed up by the arc of the 86th House District.

10 years ago, former Herndon mayor and Republican Tom Rust was reelected for a sixth term, running unopposed in both the primary and general elections. Two years later, Jennifer Boysko fell just 54 votes shy of ousting Rust, and in 2015, she turned the district blue after he opted not to seek reelection.

Jumping to 2021, the Town of Herndon and western Fairfax County down to Route 50 in Chantilly are represented in the House of Delegates by Del. Ibraheem Samirah, the Palestinian American grandson of refugees who succeeded Boysko in 2019 as part of a new wave of Democratic leaders that gave the party control of the General Assembly.

As Washingtonian put it two years ago, Samirah represents a “younger, browner — and much less demure — future” for Virginia politics that defies the old “Virginia Way,” a commitment to decorum and tradition that he argues has resulted in a government overly beholden to private interests and a state ranked as the best in the country for business but among the worst for workers.

“I’ve tried my best to work with the old Virginia Way for the benefit of my constituents, but the reality is that the old Virginia Way is outdated,” Samirah said in an interview with Reston Now. “…The old Virginia Way believes that we should only focus on profits over people, that we should get along with each other, even if that means putting down the interests of the people along the way.”

Now seeking a second full term in office, Samirah faces a primary challenger in Irene Shin, a community organizer whose background similarly reflects an increasingly diverse Fairfax County.

The daughter of Korean immigrants, Shin’s past political experience stems from work for nonprofits and election campaigns, including now-Vice President Kamala Harris’s run for the Senate in 2015. She currently serves as executive director of the Virginia Civic Engagement Table.

After building a career recruiting and training candidates for public office, Shin says she decided to become one herself upon watching Harris get sworn in as the first female, Black, and Asian vice president of the United States.

“I felt like I had something different to offer to the community and the folks of the 86th [District] and a different set of experiences — not just professional, but also lived — that I obviously believe will serve our community very well,” Shin told Reston Now.

Among those lived experiences is a firsthand understanding of growing up without health insurance and the challenges of navigating the American health care system, particularly for immigrants and people whose first language isn’t English.

When she was 16, Shin’s father was diagnosed with cancer. The out-of-pocket medical costs became so expensive that her father eventually flew back to Korea, where he was able to get the surgery he needed within a day of landing in Seoul.

Shin says that “pretty drawn-out ordeal” highlighted some of the barriers that still limit people’s access to health care, the ballot box, and other needs. Read More

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This opinion piece from Mary Barthelson, who is challenging Del. Ken Plum in the Democratic primary for the 36th House District seat, was submitted in response to Reston Now’s profile of the race. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now. Reston Now runs opinion columns from Plum every Thursday.

While speaking to voters, I have gotten frequent questions about topics ranging from criminal justice reform to my leadership style. Here are my short answers to your top asked questions.

What are your ideas on police reforms?

Police brutality is not something which only happens far away. We have seen police brutality in Virginia, including in Fairfax County. The Fairfax NAACP proposed maintaining the police budget along with 8 critical reforms which I support. In both the Donovan Lynch and Lt. Navario cases there were body camera failures. My background as a security engineer with experience developing body camera programs uniquely qualifies me to navigate expansion of Virginia’s program and ensure Virginia is utilizing technology appropriately in policing. Technology can be beneficial or harmful depending on how it’s used. Facial recognition has been discussed for its privacy concerns as well as its potential to inflame racial profiling due to higher rates of failure in identifying black people. There are, however, other forms of facial recognition which can be used to automatically obscure faces, which improve privacy. As innovation continues, the need to have a legislator present who can answer difficult questions in real time on the General Assembly floor grows. Virginia should not have to rely on the benevolence of lobbyists who are not elected by the people to ensure laws are getting passed.

Do you believe in campaign finance reform?

Virginia has some of the worst campaign finance laws in the country and attempts to change them recently have failed. There are currently no caps on personal contributions. Some of the financials I have seen in this election cycle as well as the past are deeply troubling. A few individuals hand picking elected officials and influence is undemocratic. Local communities should not have to compete with corporations and billionaires. Campaign finance reforms are important to ensure our legislators are representing the best interest of their voters. For that reason, I have not taken any corporate or PAC money. All of my donations have come from individual voters contributing an average of less than $100. I will do my part to get those campaign finance laws passed and hold elected officials accountable.

Do you support the legalization of drugs and sex work?

Having a moral disagreement with something does not mean that criminalizing it is the best way to address it. Drugs and sex work may be better addressed as civil and public health matters. Decriminalization helps collapse black markets which fund organized crime and human trafficking while also keeping consumers safe. In addition to two dozen teenagers dying in the last few years as a result of unregulated marijuana cartridges, Breonna Taylor was killed last year when police raided her home over drugs. The public understands there are risks to fighting crime. Children have been killed in their homes during drug raids and there was not a significant outcry. What was missing from the discussion around Breonna Taylor was that the response signaled a cultural shift away from seeing the war on drugs as legitimate crime fighting. People will not care whether or not police followed protocols if they don’t believe in the policies in the first place. We need to make sure the laws we ask our officers to enforce have public support. With more states and countries decriminalizing, we will have more examples to draw on to help craft new laws. I would like to carefully consider alternatives and discuss them with the General Assembly. The promising studies coming out of Johns Hopkins on the use of psilocybin for treating PTSD and depression could make reclassifying it from a schedule I drug the next realistic near-term goal.

Do you support affordable housing?

Quality housing is fundamental to family stability and well-being. I have pledged to reinstate the ‘Penny for Affordable Housing’ to ensure that we are meeting the need. President Biden’s American Rescue Plan (ARP) is assisting in funding some housing for Fairfax County. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is setting aside an additional half cent to raise $14 million for senior and affordable housing in the County FY22 budget. In addition, I support measures to ensure occupancy restrictions take into account home size and easing restrictions on accessory dwellings to make existing housing available.

What politicians do you admire most?

I admire the leadership of Danica Roem and Jennifer Wexton. I decided to enroll in Emerge Virginia last summer to learn about running for office after seeing Danica Roem was an Emerge alum. It has been inspiring to watch her combat bigotry and bring a voice to trans people. I hope that I can also be a voice for those waiting to be heard. Jennifer Wexton exemplified strong leadership when she took on Barbara Comstock and defended women’s right to healthcare. I would be proud to be the first woman to represent District 36 as House Delegate.

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Ken Plum is not used to being challenged.

It has been more than two decades since the long-time delegate for Virginia’s 36th House District last faced a primary opponent, but Plum seems to welcome the challenge presented by Mary Barthelson, who declared her candidacy on March 17.

“I could say it’s inconvenient for me, but it’s a good thing for democracy to have other people get in the ring,” Plum told Reston Now.

Early voting is currently underway in Fairfax County for the June 8 Democratic primary, where Plum and Barthelson are vying for the chance to face Republican Matt Lang in November’s general election.

As the race stands now, Plum has established a comfortable advantage, at least when it comes to finances.

The latest campaign filings indicate that Plum has about $45,500 in funds, including about $19,000 that has been raised since the beginning of 2021. His largest recent individual contribution came from Newport News Shipbuilding, a builder of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers and submarines that gave $1,000.

The longest-serving member of the Virginia House of Delegates, the 79-year-old legislator believes he has managed to stay in office since 1982 because of the close alignment of his politics and those of the 36th District, which encompasses Leesburg Pike in Great Falls to Flint Hill Road in Vienna.

“It’s a very progressive group of people,” Plum says of his constituents. “We believe in fairness and equality for all people.”

By contrast, Barthelson is a 27-year-old first-time candidate for public office and has raised about $5,700, a majority of which are from contributions of under $100.

She has yet to garner any major endorsements and paused her campaign in April for a brief time due to “personal reasons,” she told Reston Now.

Nonetheless, Barthelson says she still intends to follow through on the primary challenge, telling Reston Now that she got interested in running for public office after seeing disinformation flourish online during the 2016 presidential race.

She says she’s concerned that state laws have failed to keep up with technology’s influence on society.

“I think a lot of our laws are very behind,” Barthelson said. “Some important bills are getting pushed because legislators don’t understand them and the public is getting confused. Some are important for green technology, some for criminal justice reform and policing. Technology is just becoming more and more integrated with everything that we’re doing.”

Technology has long been a key focus for Barthelson, who attended a STEM-focused high school in Haymarket and obtained a master’s degree in systems engineering from George Mason University. She worked as a data analyst before becoming a security engineer.

She says that, if elected, she would take a different approach in governing than many other legislators.

“I would definitely be a data-driven legislator,” she said. “I’m very good with numbers…I’d speak to all the stakeholders to get a high-level view of everything and communicate what policy I think is best based on data.”

In recent Northern Virginia election cycles, a slew of younger, progressive-minded candidates have challenged incumbents. Some have won, while others are working to be a formidable challenger.

Plum says his progressive bonafides speak for themselves. He cites his work to pass a law that requires universal background checks on all gun purchases in Virginia as well as efforts to expand voting rights and abolish the death penalty.

An advocate for repealing the death penalty for years, Plum stood behind Governor Northam when he signed the law last month.

“If you ask people who followed the General Assembly over the last four decades who are the most progressive leaders in Virginia, they would list me among the top couple of delegates,” Plum said. “That’s who I am. That’s where I come from.”

Barthelson says she’s “probably as blue as the incumbent” but believes she has a clearer understanding of the challenges facing her generation.

Both Plum and Barthelson cite education and the environment as the top two issues raised by voters.

They also both value the welcoming nature of the 36th District.

“This is probably the friendliest place I’ve lived in Northern Virginia,” Barthelson said. “People definitely look out for each other and are very supportive of one another. I think that’s part of Reston culture.”

Plum agrees, saying that history of openness and a belief in fairness is what he loves most about the 36th District.

“Reston was founded as an open community, open to people of all races,” he said. “I am truly honored to represent the district, and I don’t say that lightly.”

Photo courtesy Mary Barthelson, file photo

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Andria McClellan, a Democratic candidate for Virginia lieutenant governor, released a plan on Thursday (April 29) outlining her policy platform to support small businesses coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In conjunction with the plan’s launch, McClellan visited the Town of Herndon to talk to Mayor Sheila Olem and community members about the state of local small businesses. The Herndon visit was a part of an ongoing tour of Northern Virginia and the state as early voting in the Democratic primary gets underway.

While visiting various town businesses, including Green Lizard Cycling and Great Harvest Bread Co., McClellan acknowledged the challenges many small businesses have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, while praising the sense of community fostered by both town officials and residents.

“It’s great to see a community like Herndon where the community members came together and supported the local businesses and did the GoFundMe pages and things like that,” McClellan said. “Hearing from Mayor Olem about how their economic department was helped by folks from parks and rec calling all the small businesses and doing that reach out, it just makes me feel really good about the community.”

Currently a member of the Norfolk City Council, McClellan says her small business plan was shaped by her 30-plus years of experience volunteering, fundraising, and pursuing various business endeavors, including work with nonprofits and public sector work as well as two start-up ventures.

“What happens with small businesses that are independently owned, when they make money, they put it right back into the community where they’re working and where their people are working,” McClellan said. “So, supporting those businesses and those jobs also supports the greater community.”

Her plan focuses on reducing red tape to clarify and simplify certification processes while providing government support to communities requiring the help. She also wants to foster “local and regional small business ecosystems” by connecting small business owners to one another and resources.

McClellan’s plan also calls for more opportunities for new businesses that work with renewable energy sources and water quality and more state funding to expand access to capital for small businesses through microloans, mid-range capital, and seed funding.

She believes the state’s economy and tax revenues are in better shape than anticipated given the impact of the pandemic, but she emphasized that she remains concerned about what will happen to people “who have suffered greatly” when the federal eviction moratorium comes to a close.

“It’s great to see this thriving community here, but I think underlying in all of our communities, there are a lot of people who are still hurting,” McClellan said. “We’re going to see that in much greater detail the second half of this year and we’ve got to be prepared for it.”

McClellan faces Del. Hala Ayala, Del. Mark Levine, Sean Perryman, Del. Sam Rasoul, and Xavier Warren for the Democratic nomination to replace Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, who is running for governor. Voting for the Democratic primary concludes June 8.

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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 Reston Now 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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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 Reston/Herndon area include the Great Falls and Herndon Fortnightly 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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Sen. Janet Howell (D-Reston) has endorsed Irene Shin to represent the 86th District in Virginia’s House of Delegates, Shin’s campaign announced yesterday (Monday).

Executive director of the nonprofit Virginia Civic Engagement Table, Shin announced on Feb. 9 that she would campaign for the 86th District seat currently occupied by Del. Ibraheem Samirah, who is seeking his first full term after winning a special election in February 2019.

The 86th District include the Town of Herndon as well as portions of Fairfax and Loudoun counties.

“When I look for leadership in elected office, I look for approachable, community-focused leaders who listen to people first and work to deliver solutions in state government,” Howell said in a statement. “Irene Shin is the epitome of this kind of leadership. Irene will bring effective, pragmatic leadership back to the 86th District, and will represent the Democratic values that we all support.”

According to her campaign website, Shin is the daughter of Korean immigrants and a resident of downtown Herndon. Her political experience primarily comes from work as a community organizer for campaigns, nonprofits, and startups.

In addition to working for VCET, which supports and trains progressive nonprofits and activists, Shin currently serves on the board of the Competitive Commonwealth Fund, which helps recruit and raise funds for Democratic candidates in Virginia.

When she announced her candidacy in February, Shin said that she was inspired to run for office after watching Vice President Kamala Harris get sworn in on Jan. 20 as the first female vice president in U.S. history. According to her LinkedIn profile, she worked on Harris’s Senate campaign in 2015 as a finance director.

“My top priorities as a candidate for the House of Delegates are ending the pandemic and rebuilding Virginia back to be a better, fairer society, finally bringing access to Universal Pre-K for all families, and refocusing the office of delegate on community-based collaborative leadership,” Shin said in a statement to Reston Now.

Shin says she is proud to get Howell’s support, along with endorsements from current Herndon Mayor Sheila Olem and former mayors Lisa Merkel and Mike O’Reilly.

Samirah’s endorsements so far include Herndon Vice Mayor Cesar del Aguila and Councilmembers Naila Alam, Pradip Dhakal, and Jasbinder Singh. He is also backed by Hunter Mill District School Board Representative Melanie Meren.

On his campaign website, Samirah says that he sees “improving public health as the central issue that touches all others,” but he also highlights housing affordability, gun safety, and criminal justice, among other topics.

Shin and Samirah will face off in the Democratic primary on June 8. The ballot will also feature a battle for the 36th House District between incumbent Del. Ken Plum (D-Reston) and challenger Mary Barthelson, along with statewide races for governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general.

Early voting for the primary will begin on April 23 at the Fairfax County Government Center. The first mail ballots will also be sent out that day.

Fairfax County will not have a Republican primary this June. The state party opted instead to select its nominees through a convention with remote voting.

Photo courtesy Irene Shin

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For the first time in over two decades, Del. Ken Plum, the state delegate for district 36, has a primary challenger.

Mary Barthelson, 27, is set to challenge incumbent Plum, 79, in the Democratic primary election. Plum, who has been in this office since 1982 and also held the seat from 1978-80, has run unopposed for the seat since 2011 when he faced Republican Hugh Cannon in the general election. The primary winner of the Barthelson-Plum race will face Republican Matthew Lang in the general election.

Barthelson officially announced her candidacy today.

Previously a data analyst, the Northern Virginia native currently works as a security engineer. Barthelson aims to use her engineering background to meet “a growing challenge” that is being presented by emerging technologies.

She grew up in Fairfax before attending Battlefield High School in Prince William County. She also earned a master’s degree from George Mason University in systems engineering.

“I think that my background makes me uniquely qualified to address the challenges that we’re currently facing, many of which are time sensitive both in technology and also with poverty that has risen as a result of the pandemic,” she said.

Technology and addressing poverty are her two primary focuses as she runs for office. She will also focus on green energy standards, creating green energy jobs and focusing on ending the state’s dependence on fossil fuels.

She believes that having an engineer’s eye will help to navigate challenges such as electric car standards and communicating them to legislators and the public to avoid similar issues.

“I think it lends itself to a new perspective in problem solving because people can get very fixated on the first solution that is proposed or the one that’s been proposed by someone they like instead of looking at all the information available from a wide range of sources to really come up with creative ideas to solve problems,” Barthelson said.

“That’s exactly what my background is in. Systems engineering is really the engineering of problem solving.”

Her agenda also includes reviewing and working on challenges presented with intellectual freedoms, doxxing, cyber flashing and data concerns.

Barthelson also vows to focus on removing barriers of entry into the workforce to help people from low-income backgrounds get jobs.

“I think technology is going to be a big challenge because a lot of these conversations are newer and we’re still navigating them and figuring out the best way to resolve problems and address them,” Barthelson said.

“Some of them are very complicated, so obviously it can take time to really work through that and figure out the best policies to solve the problem.”

Another technology aspect she wants to implement is making sure disinformation curriculum is provided to schools “so that the next generation has the tools it needs to engage in appropriate social media behaviors and use critical thinking when assessing information that they consume online.”

Barthelson said she decided to run because of the “time sensitive” issues she sees in poverty and challenges technology is now bringing. Among those issues is communicating with and ensuring money is properly distributed to small businesses that have closed as a result of the pandemic.

As the owner of PPE 4 NOVA, which she established to help Virginians access masks during the pandemic, she said many people with small businesses she spoke to were unaware of where to access resources available to them.

“I think we really need new ideas and we need the next generation to start getting civically engaged as well,” Barthelson said. “And with the pandemic and all the challenges that we’re facing right now, it’s really a time sensitive issue. So it’s something that we need to address now and not later.”

Photo courtesy Mary Barthelson

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Katherine Hanley/File photoFairfax County election officials are concerned that fights and other chaos may ensue when state officials demand Republicans pledge their support in Virginia’s March 1 primaries.

Fairfax County Electoral Board Secretary Katherine K. Hanley, a Reston resident and the former county supervisor chair (1995-2003), asked the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday to ask the Fairfax County Public School board to close schools on primary day.

“That’s about as contentious as anything we can possibly be doing in a polling place on Election Day,” she told the supervisors. She said she is concerned about backlash from Donald Trump supporters — and opponents — that could occur at polling places. Read More

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