The pendulum of Loudoun politics swung again this year, and it swung hard. Voters this week gave Republican candidates an unprecedented sweep of the Board of Supervisors seats. 2011 was the third election in a row that represented a partisan pendulum swing for the county government.
Turnout was low, as was expected, coming in below the anticipated 30 percent, but that did not stop the Republicans from seeing the election as an indication of what the people of Loudoun want.
"This is a reflection of the current board's policies and that the residents of Loudoun County are clearly dissatisfied with that policy," Loudoun County Republican Committee chairman Mark Sell said Tuesday night. "The Republican Party has candidates who have solutions and will work to serve the community."
Ashburn supervisor-elect Ralph Buona also said he believes the vote shows how unified the new board already is.
"[The Republican candidates] worked together the whole way and the results tonight are showing that," he said.
The election also was not influenced by a last-minute blemish on the LCRC, when it gained party, state and national criticism for a violent image of President Barack Obama, and saw its communications chairman step down only a week before Election Day.
With the election of a Republican board, 2011 marks the second time Chairman Scott K. York (R-At Large) saw the board of his choice elected by voters-albeit a very different group of supervisors. In 2007, York, then running as an Independent, championed a slow-growth board that represented a Democrat majority. This year, he touted the merits of the Republican slate of candidates, their pro-business and smart budgeting ideas, and saw each of his candidates elected. It was his landslide victory, where he earned almost 30,000 votes, and was elected at a 2-to-1 margin over Democrat Tom Bellanca, that led the Republican ticket.
"How sweet it is," York said, after learning it would be a Republican sweep Tuesday night. York said he is eager to lead the new group to move Loudoun forward. Key issues he wants to address are improving transportation and attracting new businesses. To meet those goals, York said, the board would need to collaborate.
"The challenge with any board, whether it's Republicans or Democrats, is to fully understand they're serving every resident in the county," he said. "The challenge will be to this crop of supervisors is that they now have to now govern. The race is over."
In what was easily the most heated, and at times rancorous, race this year, Republican Mike Chapman decidedly ousted four-term Sheriff Stephen O. Simpson, who was running as an Independent, winning by an almost 10,000-vote margin. Chapman received 26,863 votes, while Simpson received 17,513. Independent Ron Speakman received 5,006 votes.
As Tuesday evening wore on, Chapman expressed more and more surprise, and delight, at the results. "This is new for me. I've never run for an office. I'm a law enforcement officer," he said.
Once the votes were almost in and his win was clear, Chapman made a speech to his fellow Republicans.
"We knew there needed to be a change in the county. I'm so humbled by the people I've been able to work with, and by the voters of Loudoun County," he said. "This is just unbelievable."
As the new sheriff, Chapman will have the authority to completely restructure the personnel of the Loudoun County Sheriff's Office as he sees fit. At the Republican committee's celebration party in Lansdowne, Chapman said he plans, his first day on the job to "sit down and talk to people, and evaluate what needs to be done with the agency."
Simpson could not be reached for comment as this paper went to press. Simpson first won election in 1995, defeating Democrat John Isom. He was unopposed in 1999 and then outlasted the field in a six-way race in 2003. In that race he got 17,258 votes, while 19,807 votes were cast for the other five candidates. In 2007, Simpson again benefited from having multiple challengers. He got 20,117 votes while his two challengers totaled 31,122 votes.
The county's other top law enforcement position-Commonwealth's Attorney-will stay in the hands of incumbent Republican Jim Plowman, who turned back a strong challenge from Democrat Jennifer Wexton by less than 2,000 votes. Plowman received 26,039 votes, while Wexton earned 24,102.
With four sitting supervisors choosing not to run for office, this week's election saw an additional three ousted from office. Four years ago, four Democrats beat out four sitting Republicans for their places on the board, creating a four-Democrat, two-Independent and two-Republican board. This time around there are nine Republicans.
Defeated Tuesday were Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge), who has served on the board since 1995, and first-term Supervisors Andrea McGimsey (D-Potomac) and Kelly Burk (D-Leesburg). Republicans Matt Letourneau, Buona, Geary Higgins and Suzanne Volpe won the seats left open by four exiting supervisors and this year's redistricting.
Only York and Supervisor Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling) were returned to the dais by voters. Delgaudio won his reelection in a three-way race with 2,835 votes. Democrat Al Nevarez received 2,050 and Independent Ali Shahriari received 470 votes.
The Leesburg District was the closest supervisor race of the night, with Republican Ken Reid outpacing Burk by only 197 votes in the unofficial results. Even counting the absentee ballots was not enough to give incumbent Burk back her seat on the board.
After four terms on the board and a redistricting plan that stretched the Blue Ridge District from western Loudoun into Ashburn, Burton was unable to turn back the challenge from Republican Janet Clarke, who won the district with 4,434 votes to Burton's 3,351.
Having been redistricted out of the district she now serves, Democrat McGimsey was in a tough three-way race in the Broad Run District with Williams and Independent Planning Commissioner Cliff Keirce. Even days before the election those involved in Loudoun politics were characterizing that race as "too close to call." But in the end, Williams earned 300 more votes than McGimsey at 2,363 votes to McGimsey's 2,003 votes in the unofficial tallies. Keirce received 1,251.
In the open seats, Buona, Letourneau, Higgins and Volpe all easily won their races against their Democrat opponents. In the Ashburn District, Buona received 3,766 votes to Democrat Planning Commissioner Valdis Ronis' 2,441 votes. Letourneau received 3,100 votes in the Dulles District, while Democrat Larry Roeder won 1,782 votes, and Volpe earned 3,734 votes to Democrat Denise Moore Pierce's 2,903. Higgins won what many in the political world believed would be a tight race against Democrat Malcolm Baldwin by more than 1,000 votes. He received 4,470 votes, while Baldwin received 3,146.
Higgins himself called his win "nothing short of a miracle."
Commissioner of the Revenue Bob Wertz and Treasurer H. Roger Zurn Jr., both Republicans, were unopposed in their reelection bids. They earned 44,603 and 45,795 votes, respectively.
Turnout in Tuesday's election was lower than the anticipated 30 percent, but not by much. Of the county's 192,558 registered voters, only 54,231, 28.16 percent, cast ballots. The Blue Ridge and Catoctin Districts saw the highest turnout with 31.11 percent and 30.19 percent, respectively. The lowest turnout was in the Dulles District where only 23.68 percent of the registered voters showed up at the polls.
But discussions of numbers and turnout gave way to a vision for the future for many of the new, and reelected Republicans, who said they believe they are the people who will get the county back on track.
"We're definitely setting Loudoun on the correct course and making sure it is the economic development power house we should be," Wertz said.
Letourneau, whose district was the first to post final numbers and show an inkling of the results to come, said the results are a "clear signal" voters are ready for a change. And for his new constituents that means "an elected official who is more responsive to the needs of Dulles South in particular."
Overall he said, the results show residents are ready for positive action on the board. "This is a clear indication that citizens want to bring jobs to Loudoun County and make economic development the focus of the next board," he said.
While the Democrats closed up their election night festivities early, Loudoun County Democratic Committee chairman Mike Turner said before the results that he was pleased with his party's work, both for the candidates and the volunteers.
"The mark of a good effort is when the whole team functions effectively on Election Day," he said. "The best we can hope to do is function effectively as a single team; the rest is up to the voters. We ran a really good effort."
The week before the election saw last minute flurries of activities from both political parties attempting to influence voters still deciding where to cast their votes.
Leaders from both the state parties took a turn through Loudoun to support their candidates, with Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) attending a private fundraiser with the Loudoun County Republican Committee last Wednesday and former Gov. Tim Kaine (D), a candidate for U.S. Senate, appearing in Ashburn to support the Democrat candidates.
An image sent out by the LCRC before Halloween that showed Obama as a zombie with a bullet hole in his head garnered outrage from some residents and the Loudoun County Democratic Committee, who called for Sell's removal and for voters to "realize how extreme Loudoun Republicans had become." However, those calls were not enough to spur Democrat votes at the polls.
The words of the day at the precincts were "slow" and "steady" as some captains expressed surprise at how few voters were turning up, while at other precincts, voters were asked to be patient as they scoured lots for parking spots and waited in lines-some more than a dozen people deep-to vote.
By 9:30 a.m., precinct captain at Belmont Ridge Middle School Tony Fasolo was setting up more voting booths to shorten voters' wait. He started the morning with just five booths, and doubled it to 10.
"I'm surprised the turnout is so good," Fasolo said. "At this rate, I would guess it will stay busy all day."
By 10:30 a.m., 400 people had cast votes at the middle school.
Voter turnout at Smart's Mill Middle School in Leesburg was about average for a local and state election, according to its precinct chief John Anderson.
"It's been steady all morning," he said around 9 a.m. "I think it'll slow down mid-day because elections like this just don't have as much interest as the federal elections."
Also in Leesburg at Ida Lee Recreation Center, reports were of robust voter presence. "We've had an awesome turnout," Bob Merhaut, precinct captain, said.
Merhaut said at 11 a.m. about 384 of his precinct's voters had checked in, and added to absentee ballots, that amounted to about 15 percent turnout before noon.
"This is always a great precinct-last election we had close to 80 percent turnout. It's too early to tell yet today, but we've had a steady stream of voters so far," he added.
At one of the county's larger precincts, Hillside Elementary School in Ashburn, precinct captain Kristen Elowsky said there had been 243 voters by just before 9 a.m., a lower turnout than she has seen in previous elections.
"We usually have long lines, but not today," she said. "It's been steady, but there has been no back up."
The story was similar at Horizon Elementary School in Cascades, which had seen around 150 voters by 8 a.m. Precinct captain Judy Startzell reported few problems with voters, and approximately "one voter per minute" in the morning.
"We had six people in line when we opened the polls," she said. "It's a little better than we have usually seen at this time. People are coming in slowly."
Many precincts reported they had problems with their electronic voting machines, with Horizon's still down at 8:30 a.m. but Hillside's up and running by 9 a.m.
Brandi Brookhouse, secretary of the Electoral Board, said the problem, which was not at every precinct, but "more than I would have liked," was with the ballot cards, not the electronic voting machines themselves.
"Consensus seems to be that we just need new cards," Brookhouse said. "But that's a fairly inexpensive fix. And there is nothing wrong with the machines themselves."
By 11 a.m. Brookhouse said all the precincts reporting problems had been visited and the cards fixed. Other than that snafu this morning, Brookhouse said everything went smooth on Election Day, and no other major concerns were reported.
Staff Writers Kara Clark, Danielle Nadler and Samantha Bartram contributed to this report.