Fairfax County held a meeting for their redistricting committee and the attendance and engagement from residents was disappointing.
The Fairfax County Redistricting Advisory Committee held their latest public hearing as it gets ready to redraw new electoral maps in late August. The new maps would effectively reshape the districts for the county’s board of supervisors and the school board. The committee set up the hearing in order to hear the thoughts and concerns of the county’s residents on the redistricting endeavor.
The county currently has nine districts which each have their own supervisor and school board representative. According to the state, the bylaws set for redistricting could allow up to 11 districts but creating new districts doesn’t seem to be on the agenda currently since no more discussion was made after that revelation.
Some particular aspects that the committee was seeking answers on are the number of districts for the supervisors and the school board, what communities and neighborhoods should be in particular districts, understanding the unique challenges and concerns for communities and the needs for political representation, and the positive and negative effects that previous redistricting has had over the last 10 years.
Unfortunately, the committee received only a few responses from residents, all of them asking the committee to carefully consider their choices when deciding the new borders for the districts.
One commenter who spoke to the committee via phone was Dranesville resident Emily Rakowski who asked to keep the border lines of her school district the same in order to promote stability. According to Rakowski, her children were moved from Mclean to Langley school district when the lines were redrawn 10 years ago.
“Please take into heavy consideration in allowing Dranesville to have some stability for a decade or more in the Langley triangle,” said Rakowski.
There was also a message to the committee from Senator Jennifer McClellan of Virginia’s Congressional 9th District who represents the greater Richmond region. McClellan’s message asked the committee to consider fairness when choosing where the lines for the new districts would lay, remarking “one person, one vote”.
After the comments were done and the committee took a short recess, questions arose among them on how they could have done better in reaching out to the community about the redistricting efforts. Among the first to ask that question was Saif Rahman, the representative for the county’s Arab-American communities who took note of the lack of engagement from residents.
Members of the committee discussed options for community participation such as sending in questions and comments via their phones as well as emails that could be sent before the next meeting and would be answered at that time.
Maya Castillo, a representative for the Hispanic-American community, believed that more people would participate in the process if they knew how it all worked and to put out the information in different languages to inform the widest possible audience. Other members of the committee agreed that it would probably be best to disseminate bite-sized information about the process so residents could understand what redistricting is and what is involved.
One issue that Fairfax faces in their redistricting efforts as all other localities has been the lack of available data from the 2020 U.S. Census. While information from the federal government regarding the population numbers of the country and individual states was disseminated back in April this year data regarding the individual localities as well as sex, race, age, and ethnicity has only begun to be released in the last few weeks.
Fairfax County however has yet to receive that data from the Virginia Division of Legislative Services. This would greatly affect the committee’s timetable for setting the new district lines which is supposed to be completed by February 20, 2022.
The Redistricting Advisory Committee is a 20-member body made up of representatives of each of the nine existing Board of Supervisor districts as well as three at-large members which includes the committee’s chairman Paul Berry. The committee also has representatives from various ethnic communities such as the aforementioned Arab and Hispanic-American communities as well as the African-American and Asian-Pacific Islander communities.
The committee also includes representatives from organizations such as the Federation of Citizens Associations, the League of Women Voters, the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, and the Northern Virginia Labor Federation.
The committee’s next meeting will occur at the Fairfax County Government Center August 26. This meeting is not scheduled to be an open forum but members of the public can attend.