On March 31, 2021, a federal court declared Virginia Beach, Virginia’s method of conducting elections illegal because it dilutes the voting power of the minority community.
Campaign Legal Center (CLC) served as counsel for plaintiffs Latasha Holloway and Georgia Allen and proved at trial that the election system for city council did not comply with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).
The system denied communities of color the opportunity to elect representatives of their choice. The court ordered the city not to adopt any further electoral systems that violate the VRA.
This victory is the successful culmination of a decadeslong process of communities of color advocating for the city to change the at-large district model and institute a system that is fair.
Under the challenged system, city council candidates must reside in particular districts, but the entire city’s population votes for candidates in an at-large election. The city council has 11 members.
Because voting is racially polarized – white voters as a group and communities of color as a group usually prefer different candidates – the at-large method of election 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.
CLC’s victory in this case on behalf of its clients represents a sea change in the ability of voters who have been long marginalized by their election system to finally have a chance at equal representation by making sure their voices are heard.
The city of Virginia Beach has used an at-large voting system to elect members to the city council since 1966. At-large electoral systems have for decades been invalidated by courts as diluting the ability of minority voters to elect their preferred candidates.
The General Assembly recently passed a law, signed by the Governor, requiring localities with district-based residence requirements to elect candidates from districts, rather than at-large.
That law goes into effect in 2022. In the meantime, the court may engage in remedial proceedings to ensure that Virginia Beach’s new electoral system complies with the VRA.