Last week, a friend who was voting early couldn’t decide whom he should vote for in the At-Large race on the Virginia Beach ballot. So he texted me.
“Who’s your pick?” he asked, adding, “I don’t need the names for Centerville, Kempsville or Rose Hall Districts because I don’t live in those districts.”
Oh no, I thought. Not again. This happens in every damn local election.
Even smart, engaged Beach voters don’t understand the city’s nutty hybrid voting system.
No wonder. It makes no sense.
The Beach doesn’t have a simple ward system, nor does it have a pure at-large system. Instead, Virginia Beach has an 11-member city council, made up of a mayor, three at-large representatives and seven district members.
Council candidates who want to represent the seven geographic voting districts are required to LIVE in those districts, but the entire city votes for them. The mayor and three at-large members can live anywhere in the city.
It’s conceivable that a district representative could finish last in his or her own district yet win citywide.
Does that make sense to you? Of course it doesn’t.
You know who likes this peculiar way of voting? The entrenched cronies and the candidates they bankroll. The city’s millionaire power brokers pour loot into the coffers of developer-friendly candidates. They’re able to bury the good-government candidates who are often rich in noble ideas, but poor in cash.
Running exclusively in one of the city’s smaller districts would be far less expensive and an army of volunteers could knock on most doors.
The last thing Beach potentates want to see are more ordinary folks joining the gentry in decision-making.
Last time I checked, the population of Virignia Beach was 449,974. It costs a lot to run an effective campaign in Virginia’s largest city. Grassroots candidates don’t stand a chance against the poodles of the local corruptocrats.
Change could be coming. Two plaintiffs have filed suit in federal court, alleging that the Beach system violates the 1965 Voting Rights Act by discriminating against minority candidates.
According to The Virginian-Pilot,
The lawsuit claims the current system unlawfully dilutes minority voting strength and denies minorities an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.
Black people represent 20% of Virginia Beach’s population, while whites represent 67%, according to 2019 U.S. Census Bureau estimates. The city’s 11-member council has two Black members, and only five have served since the current system began in 1966.
The system was upheld as valid by the courts in 1967. But court rulings involving other cities since then, including Norfolk in 1989, have forced them to switch from at-large to district voting systems.
I’m not a lawyer. I don’t know if the Beach system violates the Civil Rights Act. I do know it violates tenets of common sense and fair play.
For that reason, I wish Latasha Holloway and Georgia Allen, the plaintiffs in the case, luck.
If they’re unsuccessful, Beach voters should demand a change to a ward system in the city charter.
Beach voters have witnessed too much chicanery in recent years to allow this crony-concocted system to go on any longer.