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What Virginia Beach city leaders want the public to know about the new voting system in wake of heated debate

A recent exchange of emails between Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer and Councilman Aaron Rouse is shining a light on the debate on the city's election system.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer is responding to the recent concerns expressed by Councilman Aaron Rouse regarding transparency within the city council.

As we inch closer to the November 2022 election, a recent disagreement between Dyer and Rouse is highlighting the ongoing debate regarding the city's election system.

In November, Virginia Beach voters can expect a "10-1" voting system, which means residents can only vote for the city council candidates in their districts.

In July, an appeals court threw out a decision that ruled Virginia Beach’s at-large city council election system illegal. The old system let people vote for all candidates for city office, regardless of what district in which the voter lives.

RELATED: "It's about true representation" | Virginia Beach voting system concerns spark debate between officials

Dyer said he recently had discussions with Vice Mayor Rosemary Wilson about creating a voting referendum that would allow voters to choose which voting system they prefer. Dyer said it was a draft version of the proposal, but not official.

"After discussing it with our legal team and looking at the logistics of getting it onto the ballot this November, along with the system the voters have to adapt to, we voted not to bring it forward," the mayor explained in his office Monday morning.

In the email exchange between the city leaders, Dyer called the Virginia Beach General Assembly's vote to create a 10-1 system without the city's input a "betrayal," criticizing Rouse's involvement with the state delegation in pushing for this change.

In return, Rouse said the mayor excluded him and other council members from a discussion regarding a voting referendum, which would allow voters to determine their preferred election system. He said it creates a lack of transparency, in which the mayor argued everyone has a different perspective on how they view transparency.

Rouse said he agrees with the mayor in needing the public's input on the election system, but added everyone needs to be at the table for such a discussion.

"As the mayor pointed out in his email, he's trying to move away from a 10-1 system," said Rouse. "He doesn't want a 10-1 system and that doesn't do any justice or any good."

The mayor said he is willing to have a one-on-one meeting with Rouse.

"We have a disagreement on this. I am more than willing to sit down and iron out the differences," said Dyer. "There's not always going to be a 100% consensus in politics."

Rouse said he is willing to meet with any council member regarding a concern but wants to focus on how to help get more people access to voting.

"This is much bigger than a council quarrel," said Rouse. "We have to confront our issues head-on. We cannot continue to turn a blind eye to the world around us, and what's happening to the world around us."

Dyer said after the November election, he will encourage city council to reassess the election system with public input. Both Rouse and Dyer said their disagreement will not impact this November's election.

"Let's keep the focus on the people. Let's make sure the people have every bit of information we can provide to ensure high voter turnout," said Rouse.

"We're not going to rush anything. Once again, let's just get through this November," said Dyer.

Rouse scheduled a meeting at New Hope Baptist Church in Virginia Beach Monday night with leaders of the Virginia Beach NAACP branch to help educate voters about the new election system.

Virginia Beach City Council is holding its monthly meeting Tuesday, August 9.

Dyer told 13News Now he thinks this topic needs multiple discussions across meetings, not just a few minutes during the council meeting. Rouse said he hopes to address this problem with everyone involved soon.

Leaders with Virginia Beach's Voter Registration and Election Office say they will be attending the meeting to potentially discuss the latest input on the redistricting process.

"We will be answering any questions from City Council regarding the implementation of the 10-1 system," a spokesperson for the office said. "Because the state’s database can’t handle local splits, we are having to move precinct lines and create eight new precincts."

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