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

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.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — A heated debate concerning the city’s voting system has sparked between city council members in Virginia Beach. 

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 the voter lives in.

In response, Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer said he discussed a referendum with some city council members that would let voters choose which type of voting system the city should have.  

Now, community advocates like the Virginia Beach NAACP, members of the Virginia Beach Interdenominational Ministers Conference and City Council Member Aaron Rouse are calling for transparency. They plan on holding a community meeting Monday night.

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 along with a mayor at-large.

City Council member Aaron Rouse said he’s in favor of the new system.

“If we return to an all-at-large system, that will disenfranchise many voters to our city, particularly those who don’t have access to the economic power elite as well as those who are racial minorities,” Rouse said. 

Rouse is also calling for more transparency after hearing about a meeting last week where Mayor Bobby Dyer discussed the voting system with only some city council members.  

“It’s a breach of trust and confidence in the public,” he said.

“It’s about having true representation that regardless of your racial background, regardless of your economic status, regardless of where you live in our city that your vote counts, your vote matters." 

On Sunday, Mayor Bobby Dyer sent out a lengthy response about his discussion last week. 

Part of the email says the following:

"Yes, after we prevailed on the appeal, Vice Mayor Wilson and I had some preliminary discussions on a draft recommending a referendum to the public to determine if voters preferred a pure district or at-large form of voting and did “field test” the concept with a few other council members."

Dyer said he planned to share the referendum with all members of council on August 3, but spoke with city attorneys, who decided against that.

On Sunday, Rouse responded to the letter. 

He said he’s upset that Dyer discussed the referendum with all but three members of the council.

 "That’s not good governing. It is wrong no matter how you try and reclassify it,” Rouse said in his response. 

The community meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. at the New Hope Baptist Church in Virginia Beach. It's open to the public.

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