Virginia Beach adopts the 10-district election model imposed by courts
Virginia Beach has adopted the 10-district system imposed on it last year after a court forced the city to abandon its old voting system over concerns it diluted minority votes.
The City Council voted Tuesday 10-1 to adopt the maps and voting system it was forced to use in the 2022 elections.
Barbara Henley, who represents the city’s southern District 2, was the lone vote against the new system.
A federal court ruled in 2021 that the city’s former voting system violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting minority votes.
The new 10-district system imposed by the court for last November’s elections as a result has proven widely popular.
The city held a dozen public hearings around the city and online early this year to get public feedback on the new system, which includes 10 district representatives and a mayor elected city-wide.
81% of Virginia Beach residents support the so-called “10-1 system,” according to a survey conducted by Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service at the University of Virginia.
For more than 50 years, the seven council members elected to represent specific areas were voted for city-wide, leaving localized populations little say in their representatives.
In that time, the city only elected six non-white council members. The city is about 64% white and 19% African American, according to the most recent census figures.
In a lawsuit filed in 2018 by two Virginia Beach residents, they pointed out that minority voters made up a majority in at least two of the seven old districts, but their political voices were being drowned out by the city’s white majority.
Last year, a court imposed new rules and district maps on the city. Under the order, the mayor would continue to be elected at-large while the rest of the council members were drawn into 10 districts with only residents of those districts voting for their representative.
However, the city won an appeal which would have allowed Virginia Beach to restore its at-large seats. But the public feedback from residents has prompted the city to keep the system the courts imposed.
A city staff report says the city will likely need to ask the state to approve a change to the city’s charter to accommodate the new system, since it is technically at odds with the previous voting process still outlined in the charter.
The change will also impact the school board, the staff report notes, since the charter requires school board members to be elected in the same manner as the city council.
School Board and City Council elections won’t happen again until 2024.