However pious those Democratic politicians of Fairfax County may try to sound when they attempt to explain why they're stepping all over home rule authority in the county, voters shouldn't be fooled. It's one of the oldest legislative games in any capital: redistricting, better known as the Partisan Protection Act for the Relief of Incumbent Democrats. It's the Democratic-controlled state legislature working to prevent the Republican-majority county government from redrawing its supervisory districts in the manner to which Fairfax had been accustomed -- accustomed, that is, until Republicans got a majority. Yet regardless of partisan considerations, the Democratic maneuver is a step back from good government procedures and should be dropped or stopped.

County gvernments in Virginia are required under state law to reapportion district boundaries every 10 years. But local governments have been permitted to redraw district map lines more frequently if they wish; and when Fairfax Democrats were in control that was the practice. Such redistricting at the halfway point between each 10-year census has been a tradition. Little wonder, then, that Fairfax Board Chairman John F. Herrity and his GOP colleagues on the board are trying to defy the latest legislation that would prohibit any redistricting until 1991. Mr. Herrity in this instance has taken the high road -- even if the Democratic maneuver succeeds in turning that road into a dead-end.

Mr. Herrity raises a good question and then answers it: "Why is the 1986 redistricting being opposed in Richmond when the 1975 redistricting caused not a flicker of interest in Richmond? The answer is blatant, arrogant politics."

It's all the more blatant when the Democratic state lawmakers insert a provision to make the proposed prohibition retroactive to Jan. 1 -- to block the county from acting before the state law could take effect July 1. But Mr. Herrity has vowed to proceed and to take the fight to court if necessary. A tentative schedule calls for the county board to entertain redistricting proposals from the public until April 7, and to hold a public hearing on April 21. A vote on redistricting then would be taken on April 28. What's wrong with letting this democratic process proceed to redistricting as it has in the past?