A court redrew Virginia Beach voting districts. What does it mean for voters?
- Written by Paul Bibeau
- Category: Local News
- Published: 20 October 2022
Virginia Beach residents will now vote for the council member who represents the district where they live. Under the old system, Beach voters cast a ballot for the entire city council, regardless of what district they lived in. Seven of the 10 candidates were required to live in the districts they represented and three candidates ran for “at large” seats.
The designations made little difference when it came to ballots in the city – all voters picked a candidate for every district.
Under the new system, the mayor is the only member of the council elected by the entire city and all 10 other council members are required to live in the districts they represent.
Why is it changing?
Virginia Beach residents Latasha Holloway and Georgia Allen, both Black, sued the city, saying the at-large system violated the 1965 Voters Rights Act by diluting the votes of minorities.
“The minority citizen voting age population is sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in at least two single-member districts that would be likely able to elect their candidates of choice to the City Council,” the lawsuit argues.
“The City’s Minority Voters are politically cohesive; and the City’s white citizen voting age majority votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it usually to defeat Minority Voters’ preferred candidates.”
A federal judge ordered new city council districts in 2021.
A special master appointed by the court created 10 districts of roughly 46,000 people each, and the city is holding elections under the new system starting this year.
The new districts also reflected shifts in population from 2020 Census data.
Virginia Beach adopted its old system in 1966, three years after it became a city. Over the decades, six minority candidates won seats on City Council, while more than 30% of the city’s population are people of color.
As the city made changes to its districts, it continued to fight the court’s ruling. An appeals court disagreed that the city violated the Voting Rights Act, threw out the opening the door to a potential challenge to the new system. The next city council will decide whether to take additional steps in 2023.
Regardless, the General Assembly passed a law to end the at-large system for localities and school boards in the state. Changing the system would now require a court victory and a change to the law.
How does this affect me?
It depends where you live in Virginia Beach.
Some districts - 3, 5, and 7 - will only pick a congressional candidate.
Voters in districts 2, 4, 6, 8, 9 and 10 will pick council members, a school board representative and a congressional candidate.
District 1 voters will pick a congresswoman and a council member, but not a school board candidate. That district is holding a special council election. Current representative Rocky Holcomb was appointed after Jessica Abbott resigned in 2021.
District 1 will have its first regular election in 2024.
Outside of the legal fights, many voters will cast their ballots at new polling places this year, according to Virginia Beach Director of Elections Christine Lewis.
People who live and work at the Oceanfront might be particularly impacted by the changes. One of the most notable changes the court imposed on the city was to divide the Oceanfront into separate districts at 17th Street.
City staffers had to create new precincts in the districts created by the special master, Lewis said.
State election officials mailed information to every voter about the changes. You can also look up your information online here.
The changes will not affect city services, like trash and recycling pickup, public utilities or where children attend school.
What will my ballot look like?
This is the ballot for District 2, where voters are choosing school board, council and congressional candidates
Sample ballots for all 10 districts are here, so you can see exactly what your choice will be at the polls.