VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A state delegate from Virginia Beach is hoping to change state law to make the city’s current voting system illegal.
Del. Kelly Fowler’s bill calls for the district candidates for city council and school board seats to only be voted on by district residents.
On Monday, Feb. 1, the House of Delegates passed the bill with a party-line vote. It will now head to the Senate.
Currently, all registered voters can vote on all candidates, even if they don’t live in the district. For more than 50 years, all voters have been able to vote for all 11 council members, even though seven of them represent specific districts.
Fowler claims the current system disenfranchises voters.
We are currently awaiting a federal judge’s ruling on the legality of system. That case was originally filed 2017 by Virginia Beach residents Latasha Holloway and Georgia Allen, who said the current system in place violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as it “has the effect of diluting or minimizing ‘minority voting strength’ and was adopted to “promote racially discriminatory objectives.”
Virginia Beach Vice Mayor Jim Wood said the city was not consulted about the bill.
Councilman John Moss — who has supported asking voters if the voting system should be changed — said he doesn’t support this particular bill introduced by Fowler as it’s currently written because it doesn’t involve a voter referendum.
There is some concern about what could become of the investment in tourism if council would leave the at-large system of voting. Currently, the Oceanfront community has the ear of all of council. Under a district system, they would only have five.
“Voters that live in a district should elect their representatives, not voters who live in other districts,” Fowler said. “And a referendum just punts the decision to the same majority that is disenfranchising the voters in those districts.