Historically, Virginia Beach’s local election system followed a hybrid model in which all seats were elected at-large, even those seats that had residency requirements, resulting in de facto racial exclusion from the political process and poor outcomes in certain neighborhoods. For decades, coalitions of minority residents lobbied for Virginia Beach to change the hybrid at-large election system, culminating in Holloway v. City of Virginia Beach, in which a federal court ruled that Virginia Beach’s system violated the Voting Rights Act. As a result, Virginia Beach adopted a new 10-1 single-member district system in 2022.
In early 2023, the City of Virginia Beach asked the Weldon Cooper Center to solicit residents’ feedback and carry out an independent review of election systems to inform Virginia Beach’s plan of action. This was a first-of-its-kind experiential undertaking, with widespread implications for voting rights and fair elections, issues of race and equity, and community engagement.
The survey was conducted from April 4 to June 2, 2023 and had 2,112 participants, all of whom were residents of Virginia Beach. In addition, the team conducted 10 in-person and two online community engagement sessions, with 708 attendees in total. The survey results and public community sessions show overwhelming support for the 10-1 voting system, with local districts feeling better represented by their elected officials under the new system.
With the 10-1 system, a combined 78% of respondents feel their personal interests are either moderately well, very well, or extremely well represented, compared to 65% feeling well-represented under the previous 7-3-1 voting system. Residents also felt their representatives were more diverse, responsive, and accountable to their constituents under the new 10-1 system. Notably, there were no significant differences in levels of support across gender, race, income, or education level. The report concludes with a helpful summary of social science and legal research on how districts are drawn and how districting affects both voting and the composition of city councils.
For the full report and appendices, download the files below.