Virginia Beach asking judge to allow voters to choose new Kempsville council member using now-illegal voting system

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Virginia Beach City Council will ask a federal judge to issue a stay on a previous court ruling — which declared the city’s voting system illegal — to allow the city to hold a special election for the Kempsville district council seat.

City Council voted unanimously to make the ask Tuesday, following the sudden resignation of Councilwoman Jessica Abbott on Friday.

Under state law, the council may appoint a person to fill Abbott’s former seat within 45 days of the vacancy, but the seat must ultimately be filled by a special election. Virginia law requires that special elections occur on the date of the next general election in November.

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Problem is, the City of Virginia Beach currently has no defined election system.

In March, a federal judge ruled that the city’s system — in which everyone can vote for all City Council and Virginia Beach School Board members regardless of what district they live in — violates the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. The ruling stated the system “has the effect of diluting or minimizing ‘minority voting strength’ and was adopted to ‘promote racially discriminatory objectives.’”

Ahead of the ruling, Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) signed into law Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler’s (D-Virginia Beach) bill that bans the hybrid at-large model the city has used.

The city is appealing the ruling in the federal case, however, it will still be up to a judge to decide a new system while the appeal process is playing out.

Abbott represented the Kempsville district. If a judge grants the city’s request, all registered voters will be able to weigh in on who files the seat for the three remaining years of the term.

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