What Northern Virginians need to know about the 2023 election Control of the General Assembly and dozens of local offices are up for grabs in Virginia's November elections.
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What Northern Virginians need to know about the 2023 election

Early voting in Virginia opens on Sept. 22 and runs until Nov. 4. Margaret Barthel/WAMU hide caption

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Margaret Barthel/WAMU

Fall in Virginia means it's time to vote again. The commonwealth holds elections every year, and voting in this year's contest starts Friday, Sept. 22.

All 140 seats in the General Assembly — 100 in the House of Delegates and 40 in the state Senate — are up for grabs in this election. Currently, Republicans hold a slight majority in the House, and Democrats narrowly control the Senate. Both parties hope to take full control of the General Assembly, a goal which is in reach for either side. The outcome could have major implications for abortion rights, tax cuts, statewide educational policies, climate, and more.

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There are consequential elections at the local level, too. Voters will elect county supervisors in Prince William, Loudoun, Fairfax, and Arlington counties — leaders who will shape policies around housing and development — particularly much-debated decisions over zoning reform and data centers — and confront economic challenges in the aftermath of the pandemic, transportation and infrastructure needs, and more.

Voters will also choose school board members in Prince William, Loudoun, Fairfax, and Arlington. The winners will be faced with fixing long-term student learning loss from the pandemic, navigating teacher and other staff shortages, balancing the budgets of some of Virginia's largest school systems, and navigating divisive political debates focused on schools.

Read on for more context on the races on your ballot this year, along with resources on where to find information about the candidates running in your area.

Skip to: What's at stake in the General Assembly?Republicans campaign on 'Parents Matter,' crimeDemocrats emphasize abortion rightsNorthern Virginia's competitive racesLocal elections on the ballotWho's on my ballot?How do I find more information about the candidates?How do I cast my ballot?

What's at stake in the General Assembly?

Republicans are especially keen on taking control of the state Senate, where a Democratic majority has stymied key aspects of Gov. Glenn Youngkin's policy agenda since he took office nearly two years ago. A Republican sweep in the closely-watched contest — Virginia's elections are often seen as a barometer of the national political mood in advance of the 2024 presidential election — would give Republicans free reign in Richmond on consequential issues like tax cuts, school choice, transgender rights, and abortion.

A Republican victory would also elevate Youngkin's national profile, and possibly provide momentum for a late-breaking entry into the GOP presidential primary, or perhaps serve as the foundation of a case for a vice presidential pick or high-level post in a future Republican presidential administration. Though he's popular in Virginia and has reportedly received support from major GOP donors, Youngkin has struggled to gain traction nationally thus far. Youngkin has posted consistently strong approval ratings among Virginians, but a poll from Christopher Newport University earlier in the year found that nearly 60% of Virginians do not support the idea of Youngkin running for president. An August survey by Virginia Commonwealth University found that Youngkin would win a hypothetical presidential match-up with Biden in Virginia.

When asked about possible national ambitions, Youngkin says he's focused on the Virginia elections. And he certainly is financially: according to campaign disclosures released in September, Youngkin's Spirit of Virginia PAC raised $3.8 million in July and August, a sum of money that will help make up Republican candidates' fundraising gap with Democrats, who were ahead in individual fundraising by $5 million for the period. Virginia Democrats are also receiving support from the national party; the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, for instance, has pledged seven-figure spending in the party's quest to defend the Senate and win the House of Delegates.

Republicans campaign on 'Parents Matter,' crime

Youngkin's fundraising is helping to push a Republican message centered around community concerns, especially parents' rights, a catch-all term for concerns about parent visibility into school decision making, frustrations over equity policies, residual anger over pandemic school closures, and pushback against schools' attempts to be inclusive to transgender and nonbinary youth. Parents' rights was a successful talking point for Youngkin in the 2021 governor's race, and he's returning to it this year, hosting a series of "Parents Matter" town hall listening sessions in which he also highlights Republican candidates.

"I think parents belong at the head of the table making sure that they understand who's in charge of their kids," said Youngkin at one such event with Juan Pablo Segura, the Republican nominee for state senate in the 31st District, which includes western Loudoun County. That message appears to be particularly top-of-mind for Segura and Republicans in Loudoun, where public schools and the school board have been the center of a swirling controversy over the mishandling of two sexual assaults.

"Parents are just incredibly disappointed at this Loudoun County School board," Segura said at the event. Segura's PAC has given funding to conservative or independent school board candidates.

Another key Republican talking point is crime and public safety. Youngkin has repeatedly touted his support for law enforcement while raising concerns about rising crime, the opioid epidemic, and human trafficking. Virginia State Police reported a nearly 5% increase in violent crime in 2022, driven in part by an uptick in domestic violence homicides.

Democrats emphasize abortion rights

Meanwhile, Democrats hope to expand their majority in the state Senate and potentially take the House of Delegates, both of which would give them an even more powerful check on Youngkin's agenda. In the past two years, they've used their senate majority to block Republican attempts to pass abortion restrictions (including Youngkin's preferred 15-week ban), impose more restrictions on voting, and put in place major corporate tax cuts, among other things.

The 2023 legislative contest is the first major election in Virginia since the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, and Democrats are centering their messaging around protecting abortion rights, which has proved a winning issue for Democrats in a handful of other elections across the country. It could be again in Virginia: Some polling suggests that restricting abortion rights is unpopular among Virginians, and the commonwealth is the only state in the South not to limit access since the court's decision.

"This election will decide if abortion remains legal & accessible in Virginia. Full stop," wrote Tarina Keene, the executive director of abortion rights advocacy group REPRO Rising Virginia, in a post on X.

Democratic campaigns are certainly reflecting that focus so far. Russet Perry, the Democratic nominee facing Segura in Senate District 31, is hosting a "Russet for Roe" tour, beginning with a public conversation with reproductive healthcare providers.

Elsewhere in Northern Virginia, Democratic candidates are being buoyed by spending from abortion rights groups: Josh Thomas, the Democratic candidate in the tight House District 21 contest against Republican John Stirrup, received support from Planned Parenthood Virginia PAC in digital ad spending, part of an expected overall $1.5 million spend from the group in key districts.

Republicans have mostly coalesced around Youngkin's proposal for a 15-week ban with exceptions for rape and incest victims or if the life of the mother is at risk, a position they characterize as a reasonable compromise. The majority of abortions in Virginia happen before the 15-week mark, but some advocates believe such a ban would complicate treatment for fetal abnormalities and other serious pregnancy complications that may not be discovered until later.

Democrats have also called into question whether Republican candidates would actually stop at a 15-week limit if they win control of the General Assembly. Youngkin has said he'd sign any measure to restrict abortion rights, and he and other Republicans — including Stirrup — have been caught on tape supporting banning the procedure outright.

Northern Virginia's competitive races

Some races, particularly in the deep-blue areas of Northern Virginia, were all but decided in the June primary elections. The Virginia Public Access Project includes just 14 legislative contests — 9 in the House and 5 in the Senate — as key races, likely to determine which party emerges victorious. Three of those are in Northern Virginia.

In Northern Virginia (and much of the rest of the commonwealth), the most fought-over political territory is in the exurbs and adjacent rural areas in Prince William and Loudoun counties. Both include fast-growing population centers that have tilted blue in recent years, but Republicans remain popular in the more rural western parts of both counties.

Those dynamics are likely to translate into a highly competitive race for House District 21, an open seat centered in Manassas and Gainesville, which as noted above pits Republican John Stirrup, a former member of the Board of County Supervisors, against Democrat Josh Thomas, a Marine Corps veteran and lawyer. In neighboring House District 22, in Bristow and Nokesville, another competitive race is taking shape between Republican Ian Lovejoy, a former Manassas City Council member, and Democrat Travis Nembhard, a lawyer who has worked in various roles in the D.C. government.

Senate District 31, in western Loudoun County, is shaping up to be the most expensive race on the ballot this year, with both candidates having raised more than $1.7 million. Democrat Russet Perry, a prosecutor, is running against entrepreneur Juan Pablo Segura, a Republican. The outcome in that race could have bearing on the outcome in House District 30, which covers much of the same territory and is a competition between Democrat Rob Banse, a pastor, and Republican Geary Higgins, a former Loudoun County supervisor and leader in the local GOP.

Local elections on the ballot

Important local leadership positions on county boards and boards of supervisors are on the ballot in Arlington, Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun Counties, plus smaller city councils, like Falls Church.

Housing and development politics — always a contentious issue in Northern Virginia — are likely to come up in those contests, particularly in Prince William County, where local Democrats' push for more data center development has scrambled county politics and led to an upset in the Democratic primary for chair of the county supervisors. With all the supervisor seats on the ballot in the fall, it remains to be seen how frustrations over data centers will play out in the general election.

Loudoun County is facing similar development pressures around data centers, the need for more (and more affordable) housing, and concerns over preserving the county's rural west. All of those questions are likely to come before the next Board of Supervisors, which, given the county's leftward tilt in recent years, is likely to still be controlled by Democrats. But several current board members, all Democrats, are facing heightened scrutiny in local and conservative media circles over luxury business travel abroad, an unspooling political scandal that may impact the election.

In Arlington, development questions about adding density in residential areas were the main focus of the Democratic primary in June, and are expected to continue to be a focal point in the general election, which includes two Democrats, an independent, and a Republican (given Arlington's political leanings, the two Democrats are likely to win).

Most localities have some or all of their school board seats up for grabs this fall. While the boards — particularly in Fairfax and Loudoun — have become a major political battleground in culture war issues and post-pandemic recovery in recent years, the seats are technically nonpartisan, so you won't see a D or an R next to candidate's names. Nevertheless, most local Democratic and Republican parties typically endorse a slate of school board candidates and put them on their sample ballots.

All four counties will also choose a commonwealth's attorney, following bruising Democratic primaries in Arlington, Fairfax, and Loudoun counties in June. In those contests, all three reform incumbents — originally elected in 2019 — triumphed over primary challengers. Now, all three — plus Prince William County's Democratic incumbent prosecutor — will attempt to fend off Republican and independent challengers at a time when conservatives across the commonwealth are raising concerns about public safety on the campaign trail. Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William voters will also elect county sheriffs, responsible for running jail and court security. In Loudoun, which doesn't have a police department, the sheriff also provides patrol, investigation and other policing services.

Who's on my ballot?

For most Northern Virginia voters, the ballot as a whole will include your state house and senate seats, supervisor or county board member races, school board, commonwealth's attorney, and maybe more local positions. You can find local elections pages with sample ballots here: Arlington; Fairfax; Loudoun; Prince William.

You can also check the Virginia Department of Elections website or your county's elections page for candidate lists for both local and legislative races — and to make sure you're registered to vote.

For General Assembly races, you can find your house and senate districts by using the Who's My Legislator? tool, which allows you to plug in your address to look up the numbers of the districts you live in, if you're not sure what they are. Once you've entered in your address, be sure to click the "***New in 2024" tabs in red for both house and state senate district boxes. This is because 2023 is the first year Virginia is using its newly-redrawn state legislative districts, and the names (and boundaries) of the districts have changed.

How do I find out more information about the candidates?

If you're interested in finding out more about specific candidates and their campaigns, you can search the Virginia Public Access Project, where you can find out how much money campaigns have raised and spent and see recent relevant press coverage.

Plenty of local organizations — think chambers of commerce, League of Women Voters chapters, local news outlets, and other civic organizations — are likely to host debates or candidate meet-and-greets.

Here are a few events that might be of interest:

The Arc of Northern Virginia and the Autism Society of Northern Virginia are hosting candidate forums for the region's General Assembly races, starting Monday, Sept. 25. Check the list for when the relevant one is for you.

Arlington: The Arlington Committee of 100 hosted a 'Quiz the Candidates' forum with the county board candidates, and the recording is posted on their website.

Fairfax: The local League of Women Voters is hosting a series of virtual candidate forums, starting October 2 with candidates for the Chair of the Board of Supervisors. Later in the month, they'll hear from candidates for at-large school board seats, the sheriff, and the soil and water conservation board.

Loudoun: The Loudoun Chamber of Commerce is hosting a General Assembly Candidates Forum, Friday, Sept. 29 from 7:45 am – 10 am.

Prince William: The Prince William Committee of 100 has already started hosting forums, and has one planned for Sept. 28 with the Senate District 30 candidates. The group posted recordings of its forums with at-large school board candidates and commonwealth's attorney candidates.

Many advocacy groups in the region weigh in on elections by making endorsements or asking candidates to fill out questionnaires. You can usually find an endorsement section on campaign websites, or you can check the websites of organizations whose positions you support to see if they've endorsed or published questionnaires tailored to your interests as a voter. And these can get pretty specific; for example, Falls Church voters who want to know more about candidates' environmental stances can check out the local Sierra Club's take on the City Council race, or Loudoun voters may be interested in the Dulles Area Realtors' Association endorsements in local races.

Remember, school board candidates are officially nonpartisan, but many seek endorsements from local political parties. You can usually find the Democratic or Republican slates of school board candidates on the local parties' websites.

Okay, I'm ready to vote! How can I cast my ballot?

You've got a few options: You can request a ballot by mail; you can vote early in-person; or you can vote on Election Day, Nov. 7.

Early in-person voting begins Friday, Sept. 22, and continues through Saturday, Nov. 4, the weekend before Election Day. Visit your local registrar's page to find out where your county's early voting sites are located. Remember, you won't need to specify why you want to cast your ballot early.

If you want to go the mail-ballot route, put in your request to have a ballot sent to you here by Oct. 27. Keep in mind, you'll need a witness signature to validate your completed ballot; if you miss that detail, you should hear from your local registrar within three days to fix it. Return your ballot to your local registrar by mail — make sure it's postmarked on or before Election Day! — or by dropping it off in a ballot dropbox, if your local registrar uses them. Ballots mailed on Nov. 7 can still be received and counted by local registrars up until noon on the third day following Election Day.

On Election Day, polls are open in Virginia from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Voters in line at 7 p.m. will still be allowed to vote.

You'll need to bring an ID with you to cast a ballot. Acceptable IDs include a driver's license, a passport, a student ID, a current utility bill, bank statement, or pay stub showing your Virginia address. (See the full list here). Voters who do not bring an ID with them can still vote a provisional ballot and bring or send ID information to their local registrar's office after the fact.

Not yet registered to vote or need to update your current registration? You'll need to do so by Oct. 16. You can fill out an application online, at your local registrar's office, your public library, military recruitment offices, Department of Motor Vehicles branches, and other government-run offices. If you don't manage to register by that date, you can still cast a provisional ballot and provide your local registrar with information proving your residency afterwards.

This story has been updated with information on Democrats' funding sources.

This story originally appeared on DCist.com

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