In a victory for voters and democracy, the Virginia Beach City Council voted last night to adopt a “10-1” election system and a court-approved district map that ensures all voters in Virginia Beach will have an equal voice in local elections.
This victory marks the culmination of years of litigation against Virginia Beach’s at-large system of elections, in place since 1966, which Campaign Legal Center (CLC) successfully proved was in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Since 2018, Campaign Legal Center has represented two Black voters, Latasha Holloway and Georgia Allen, in a lawsuit challenging Virginia Beach’s at-large election system, which allowed voters in any district (or ward) to vote for all 11 members of the city council regardless of where they live.
Voting in Virginia Beach is racially polarized: white voters as a group tend to prefer different candidates than Black, Latino, and AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) voters. As a result, the at-large method of election regularly functioned to deprive Black, Latino and AAPI voters from electing their preferred candidates to any of the eleven seats on the city council.
Following CLC’s lawsuit, the court prohibited the city from using its at-large system and approved a new district map with ten single member districts that provides the city’s Black, Latino, and AAPI voters with an equal opportunity to elect candidates to the city council. This map was used in the November 2022 local elections, resulting in the most diverse city council in Virginia Beach’s history.
In the new system, voters are equally divided among 10 districts, with one council member representing each district. The mayor will be the only position elected at-large. In 2023, the City also conducted a public survey on its election system, which found that 81% of respondents wanted to keep the "10-1" system.
CLC’s victory in that case represented a sea change, giving Virginia Beach voters who have been long marginalized by their election system a chance to make sure their voices are heard. In addition to CLC’s federal lawsuit, the Voting Rights Act of Virginia, signed into law in 2021, includes strong protections for Virginia voters and renders dilutive at-large election systems like the one struck down in Virginia Beach susceptible to state litigation.
Last night, the Virginia Beach City Council faced a choice: adopt the fair “10-1” system for all City Council elections moving forward or continue an anti-democratic effort to ignore public support for the "10-1" system and bring back an election system that denied some voters an equal voice.
On August 15, 2023, in a 10-1 vote, the City Council voted to adopt the court approved map and "10-1" system. Now, Virginia Beach’s Black, Latino and AAPI voters will have a fair election system and opportunity to make their voices heard in local elections.