VIRGINIA BEACH (WAVY) — A Virginia Beach woman has taken legal action against the city over how council members get elected.
In a motion filed in federal court this week, Latasha Holloway claims Virginia Beach elections have the effect of unlawfully reducing minority voting strength and equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. That violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and three constitutional amendments, she said.
“The current system, plain and simple, represses the voice of the people. It disables individuals like me from having a voice, so we have entire communities that are not being heard,” she told WAVY News. She would like to see a system of wards instead. A referendum to change the current system to a ward system more than 20 years ago did not pass, a council member said.
A city spokesperson provided the following statement:
“The City has not yet been served with this lawsuit and has not had the opportunity to evaluate it. The City Attorney’s Office will evaluate the suit and advise the Virginia Beach City Council.
At this time, the City notes: The City’s election system, which is comprised of seven residence districts and four at-large seats, all elected on a City-wide basis, is mandated by the City Charter which was adopted by the Virginia General Assembly. The City’s voting system was upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1967 and by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia in 1997. Additionally, the City’s voting system, including the current residence districts, were pre-cleared by the United States Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, in 2011 in accordance with the Voting Rights Act.”
According to the City Clerk, all elections in Virginia Beach are “at-large” for district representation — meaning every voter has a say in the election of every council member. Even if you live in Kempsville, you can vote on who represents the Beach district.
Dr. Amelia Ross-Hammond, one of three African-American former Virginia Beach city council members, said she was not commenting on the court filing, but said that it seems very hard for some minorities to get elected or re-elected. She would like to see a study on the issue for a better balance on the council, she said.