VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The topic of local voting rights took center stage at a Virginia Beach NAACP town hall Tuesday night.
The election system was historically all-at-large, which means city council candidates could be elected by voters regardless of the district they live in.
However, in November, it changed to voting-by-district. The system is also referred to as 10-1. Some activists are pushing for this change to stay, for good.
Close to 100 people, including residents, students, as well as elected officials on the state and federal level, sat in for Tuesday night's meeting at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
The town hall came as city leaders look to gather feedback on the 10-1 election system. It lets voters in Virginia Beach pick among city council candidates running only in their district. The position of mayor would be at-large.
Representatives of the local branch of the NAACP advocated for the 10-1 system.
"It's time to take action, move forward and not backward," said Rev. Eric Majette, the chapter's president.
"One, it provides representation, but not just representation — full and fair representation," said Georgia Allen, one of two residents who sued over voting rights in 2017.
Allen's lawsuit alleged the city's all-at-large system, implemented at the time, disadvantaged minorities and diluted voting strength among people of color.
A federal judge sided with that argument, calling the at-large system illegal.
However, an appeals court judge ended up throwing the ruling out, essentially finding it moot. Because of a law passed by the General Assembly in 2021, an all-at-large voting system cannot return.
Court orders led to a 10-1 voting setup taking effect in the November 2022 election — something Virginia Beach native Laurice Yarn said she favors.
"We were able to get a more representative city council," Yarn told 13News Now.
In the future, for instance, other options like a 7-3-1 voting system including districts, super wards and an at-large position could be explored.
"It's still going back to the old system of disenfranchising African-American, disenfranchising marginalized communities," Rev. Gary McCollum, vice president of the Virginia Beach branch of the NAACP, argued.
McCollum, Majette and others urged people in the crowd to ensure city leaders hear their voices and thoughts on the matter.
By Aug. 18, city council members need to decide whether to request a November ballot referendum to change the election system again.
However, before that August deadline, the City of Virginia Beach will sponsor input meetings of its own on the election system.
Moderators plan to meet and engage with the community in a series of 12 meetings until April 3. The first one is taking place Saturday at Bayside Recreation Center (4500 First Court Rd) at 5 p.m.