Holloway vs. City of Virginia Beach

Virginia Beach residents Latasha Holloway and Georgia Allen are asking a federal court to change the City’s election system to district-based voting to remedy what they believe has been a violation of Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.   

Representation is a fundamental element of American democracy, and there are numerous models that American communities follow to elect representatives.

Since it was chartered as a municipal corporation on January 1, 1963, Virginia Beach has elected its 11-member City Council to staggered four-year terms, meaning that about half of the seats are up for election during each general election in even numbered years. All registered voters are eligible to vote for all 11 members of the Council. The mayor and three Council members are elected and serve “at large”, (citywide) with no district residency requirements. The remaining seven representatives are required to live in the districts they represent: Bayside, Centerville, Kempsville, Lynnhaven, Princess Anne, Rose Hall and Beach. The vice mayor is elected by the City Council at the first meeting in January following a Council election. 

Latasha Holloway, et. al. v. City of Virginia Beach, et. al. 

In Holloway vs. City of Virginia Beach, which went to trial on Oct. 6, 2020, Virginia Beach residents Latasha Holloway and Georgia Allen are asking a federal court to change the City’s election system to district-based to remedy what they believe has been a violation of Section 2 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting.  Specifically, they contend that the City’s current voting system dilutes minority voting strength. They have asked the court to consider, among other things, an election system with 10 single member districts, meaning that only the voters residing in each district would elect the Council member from that district, plus the mayor who would be elected at large.  

The Legal Standard

In order to prevail in the litigation, the plaintiffs must prove that 1) the minority group is sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority within a single member voting district; 2) that the minority group tends to vote cohesively (for the same candidates); and 3) that the majority votes sufficiently as a bloc so as to enable it to usually defeat the minority’s preferred candidate. If these “preconditions” are proved, the plaintiffs must then also prove that the City’s voting system “under the totality of circumstances” diminishes the ability of a minority group to elect its candidates of choice.

The City’s Position

The City believes that the plaintiffs' case fails as a matter of law and fact.  The City asserts that plaintiffs cannot show, under existing census data that any single minority group is sufficiently large or compact to constitute a majority within any single voting district.  Plaintiffs attempt to avoid this defect in their case by combining Black voters with Asian and Hispanic voters, arguing that all three minorities vote cohesively as one group.  This is sometimes referred to as a coalition claim.  The law is unclear whether a coalition claim is viable under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and there is a split amongst the federal appellate courts on this issue. Moreover, even if such a claim is generally legally permissible; in this particular case there is no scientifically reliable estimated voter support levels for Asian or Hispanic voters in Virginia Beach due to their relative population size and high level of integration throughout the city so it is impossible to determine who their candidates of choice might be. Furthermore, the City believes the plaintiffs will fail to offer competent qualitative evidence that Black, Hispanic and Asian voters in Virginia Beach are politically cohesive, which is one of mandatory criteria mentioned above. 

The City has filed various motions that it believes were well founded seeking dismissal of this case.  The court has denied each of the City’s motions and scheduled a bench trial to begin on October 6, 2020.  The city council has been kept closely advised of the case and has directed the City Attorney to proceed with defending the case at trial. 

If the Court finds in favor of the plaintiffs and declares the City’s election system to be in violation of Section 2, then it may enjoin the City from the use of the current election system, impose a remedial system of elections and award the plaintiffs their reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs.  Because of the complexity and importance of the issues presented, regardless of the outcome in the trial court, it is anticipated that the losing party will appeal the trial court’s ruling. 

The City is being represented by Deputy City Attorney Christopher Boynton, Associate City Attorney Gerald Harris and Assistant City Attorney Joseph Kurt.  The City has also hired election law litigation attorneys from the national firm Baker & Hostetler to serve as co-counsel in the case.

For a deeper dive into the facts, explore the related documents on this webpage.