Changes to Local Election System Are on the Horizon - Provide Your Input on How the City Should Move Forward

Opportunities for in-person public input are available June 8 and 15.

The City is proceeding with an appeal of the district court's decision in Latasha Holloway, et. al. v. City of Virginia Beach, et. al., and invites residents to share comments and feedback about potential remedies.

Citizens may send written comments to CityCouncil@vbgov.com or sign up to speak either in person or virtually at one of two Special Formal Sessions on June 8 and June 15. To speak in person, please call the City Clerk's office at 757-385-4303 to sign up. To make comments virtually, please follow the two-step process provided below:

These Special Formal Sessions will be streamed live on VBgov.com and Facebook Live, and will be recorded for rebroadcast on Cable TV. Citizens are encouraged to submit their comments to the City Council prior to the meeting via email at CityCouncil@vbgov.com.

In the City's current election system, all 11 members of the City Council are elected at-large – seven council members each residing in one of the City's seven districts and four council members, including the mayor, who can reside in any part of the city. Two plaintiffs, Virginia Beach residents Latasha Holloway and Georgia Allen, asked a federal court to change Virginia Beach's current election system, alleging that the City's at-large election system violates Section 2 of the Federal Voting Rights Act by diluting minority voting strength and preventing a combined group of racial minority groups from electing candidates of their choice. The plaintiffs asked the court to consider, among other things, an election system with 10 single member districts with some of those districts being minority-majority districts. In this election system, only the voters residing in each district would elect the council member from that district. Only the mayor would be elected at large. 

The City contends that it is not possible to draw a majority-minority district for a single minority group in Virginia Beach because minority residents are dispersed throughout the City rather than being concentrated in select areas. Based on 2020 Census data, Virginia Beach actually is second only to Portland, OR, among the most racially integrated (least segregated) larger cities in America.

Further, the City also contends that the plaintiffs cannot overcome this defect in their case by combining Black voters with Asian and Hispanic voters because the law does not authorize combining minority groups to state a claim under Section 2 and because all three minorities in Virginia Beach do not vote cohesively as one political group.

While defending the Holloway case through trial, the City believed that by prevailing in the case it would have the option of keeping the historical system intact if that was the will of the public and the City Council. The City Council discussed holding a referendum regarding the election system during the November 2020 election but ultimately voted not to do so after several council members expressed concern that COVID-19 protocols would prevent or unduly limit necessary public information and outreach efforts. Subsequently, the option of retaining the current system was taken off the table by the General Assembly's enactment of HB2198 during its session in early 2021.

The court ruled in favor of the plaintiff and it is this ruling the City is appealing. The court has prohibited the City from using the historical election system in any future elections and has asked the parties to propose remedies no later than July 1, 2021, after which time the court will decide what the future election system will be. While the district court (or an appellate court) will ultimately decide what system may be used for future City Council elections, the City will be participating actively in the remedy phase of the case.  As part of the City's participation in the remedial phase, the City Council would like to hear from residents about which election systems and principles they prefer and why. 

The City Council's decision to appeal the district court's ruling means the City is seeking appellate court review of its arguments that the current system does not unlawfully dilute the voting rights of minority voters, that coalition claims are not legally viable under federal law, and that minority groups in Virginia Beach do not vote for the same political candidates and causes. Even if the City is successful on appeal, the election system still must be evolved going forward because of recent changes in state law.

Possible Remedies:

While the City is pursuing the appeal, City Council is also actively working to prepare for the district court's remedial phase.  Accordingly, by July 1, 2021, the City will submit to the district court its proposed remedial plan and maps. The City Council is currently considering proposing one of two plans to the district court:

  1. A seven-ward, three-super ward, at large mayor system in which:
    • Seven council members are elected from seven equally populated districts (often called wards), where each ward representative would be required to reside within the ward and would be elected only by the voters in that ward;          
    • Three council members elected from three equally populated super wards (larger geographical area within the city that overlaps two or more wards), where each representative would be required to live in the super ward and would be elected only by the voters in each super ward
    • One mayor, who could reside anywhere in the city and would be elected at large
      example of 7 equal wards
      example of 3 equal super wards

  2. A 10-ward, at-large mayor system in which:
    • Ten council members are elected from 10 equally populated districts/wards, where each ward representative would be required to reside within the ward and would be elected only by the voters in that ward;    
    • One mayor, who could reside anywhere in the city and would be elected at large
      example of 10 equal wards

For more information and to review conceptual maps, briefings and case materials, visit vbgov.com/electionchanges.

June 1 City Council Informal Meeting Explaining Changes to the City"s Election System

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