Virginia Beach’s At-Large Election System
The 11-member City Council is the governing body for the City of Virginia Beach. The Mayor and the other 10 councilmembers are elected at-large to four-year staggered terms. Seven of the 11 councilmembers are required to be residents of the seven districts in Virginia Beach (Bayside, Beach, Centerville, Kempsville, Lynnhaven, Princess Anne, and Rose Hall), but are nonetheless elected at-large. The other four seats, including the Mayor, are elected at-large with no residency requirements
The City of Virginia Beach is the largest city in Virginia. The City has used an at-large voting system to elect members to the City Council since 1966.
The demographics of Virginia Beach have changed tremendously since 1966. The percentage of minorities in the City has more than doubled since the 1970 census, yet only six minority candidates have ever been elected to the City Council and no Black candidate has ever been re-elected to serve a second term.
Impact on Minority Voters
According to the 2010 Census, minorities constitute 31.6% of the total population in Virginia Beach and Non-Hispanic Blacks constitute 19.0% of the total population. According to the 2012-2016 American Community Survey, the Non-Hispanic White citizen voting age population (“CVAP”) was 69.3%, the Non-Hispanic Black CVAP was 18.3%, the Non-Hispanic Asian CVAP was 5.2%, and the Hispanic CVAP was 4.8%.
Yet, Minority Voters in Virginia Beach have been prevented from participating fully in City Council elections because of the way that councilmembers are elected. That election method, in which all councilmembers are elected at-large in citywide elections, unlawfully dilutes the voting strength of Minority Voters and prevents them from electing their candidates of choice to the City Council.
The City Council has eleven members. Because voting is racially polarized—white voters as a group and Minority Voters as a group usually prefer different candidates—the at-large method of election has regularly functioned to deprive almost one-third of the city’s voting age population from electing candidates of their choice to any of the eleven seats on the City Council.
The consistent defeat of minority preferred candidates would not occur if the City Council were elected using ten single-member voting districts and one at-large mayoral race. The minority citizen voting age population is sufficiently large and geographically compact enough 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 denial of the right of Virginia Beach minority residents to have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice to the City Council has resulted in a City Council that is not responsive to the particular needs of the minority residents.
Virginia Beach’s Single-Member District Election System Violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act
In Virginia Beach, the at-large method of election for the City Council submerges Minority Voters so that they are rendered ineffective electoral minorities in most elections; denies Virginia Beach’s Minority Voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect councilmembers of their choice; and dilutes the vote of all Virginia Beach Minority Voters.