VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The City of Virginia Beach will appeal a federal court’s ruling that finds its current method of electing City Council and school board members illegal.
City attorneys had been negotiating a possible settlement since the judge’s March ruling and two weeks ago presented the possible settlement to Virginia Beach City Council.
Mayor Bobby Dyer announced Wednesday that those settlement proposals are no more. Now, the city will prepare to present the court with a plan for a new voting system while they await appeal.
“Despite our best efforts, the parties in the Holloway vs. City of Virginia Beach case have been unable to achieve a mutually agreeable settlement,” Dyer said in a statement released Wednesday. “The City is therefore proceeding with an appeal of the district court’s decision, which will be filed with the Fourth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in June.”
Judge Raymond Jackson’s ruling was in regards to the city’s current system — in which everyone can vote for all City Council and school board members regardless of what district they live in. Jackson ruled the system violated the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 by denying “Hispanics, African Americans, and Asians equal access to the electoral and political process.”
Virginia Beach residents Latasha Holloway and Georgia Allen filed the complaint about the voting system in 2017. They said the system that’s been in place for the last 50 years “has the effect of diluting or minimizing ‘minority voting strength’ and was adopted to ‘promote racially discriminatory objectives.'”
They have asked the court to impose a new system with 10 single-member districts where only the voters in each district would elect the council member from the district. The mayor would be the only official still elected by all city voters.
In the mayor statement Wednesday he said: “The City’s position is that the plaintiffs’ case fails as a matter of law and fact, and that plaintiffs cannot show, under existing data, that any single minority group is sufficiently large or compact to constitute a majority within any single voting district. The City also contends that plaintiffs cannot overcome this defect in their case by combining Black voters with Asian and Hispanic voters because the law does not authorize combining minority groups to state a claim under Section 2 and because all three minorities in Virginia Beach do not vote cohesively as one political group.”
As of April, the city had spent upwards of $1.4 million on the suit that Deputy City Attorney Christopher Boynton said would be “expensive and time consuming” to appeal.
Even if an appellate court overturns Jackson’s ruling, the city still won’t be able to use its existing system because of a change in Virginia law.
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.
Now, the city is asking for feedback on what comes next.
The court has asked the parties in the case to proposed remedies for the issue no later than July 1. After that time, the court will decide what the future election system will be.
“As part of the City’s participation in the remedial phase, the City Council would like to hear from residents about which election systems and principles they prefer and why,” the mayor wrote.
There is a public briefing on the status of the case scheduled for 6 p.m. June 1.
Residents can share their feedback during two public hearings scheduled June 8 and 15.
All meetings will be held in Suite 5 of the Virginia Beach Convention Center, 1000 19th Street.
They can also be watched online at VBgov.com or on VBTV. Directions on how to sign up to speak in person or virtually will be released when the agendas for the meetings are published on VBgov.com.