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Appeals court vacates decision that ruled Virginia Beach's at-large city council election system illegal

The old system let people vote for all city council candidates, regardless of what district they live in.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — An appeals court threw out a decision that ruled Virginia Beach's at-large city council election system illegal Wednesday.

The old system let people vote for all candidates for city office, regardless of what district the voter lives in.

Virginia Beach residents Latasha Holloway and Georgia Allen alleged that the at-large system diluted voting strength among people of color. They filed a lawsuit in 2017.

Last year, a federal judge with the U.S. District Court for Eastern Virginia sided with the plaintiff's claims, saying the voting setup is illegal.

RELATED: Court declares Virginia Beach's at-large city council election system illegal, says it disadvantages minorities

However, the city had been on track to make changes. The Virginia General Assembly passed legislation in 2021 doing away with the all-at-large system.

A U.S. Court of Appeals ruling filed Wednesday sided with the city. 

"We agree with the City that the district court erred in reaching the merits," Circuit Judge Pamela Harris wrote. "The general assembly's action left the plaintiffs challenges —  and the district court assessing —  an electoral system that no longer governs elections in Virginia Beach."  

Harris is among two judges who found the initial ruling moot. One judge dissented, according to a written opinion. 

Mayor Bobby Dyer told 13NewsNow he feels a sense of vindication.

Deputy City Attorney Christopher Boynton mentioned, however, that it's disappointing the appeals court decision took this long.

"It appears, at least, to lock us into the district court-ordered system through the November 2022 election," Boynton said.

RELATED: Virginia Beach voters can expect changes at the polls in November

Voters in Virginia Beach should expect the previously court-ordered 10-1 election system come November. That means residents can only pick among city council candidates running in their district, along with an at-large mayor.

After November, it's not yet entirely clear what kind of council election system the city will go for. 

"I think it's more important right now that we successfully get through the current election. We're going to have with the 10-1 system," said Mayor Dyer. 

Ahead of November, the city has redrawn districts 4, 7 and 10, creating three minority opportunity districts.  

Moreover, the appeals court ruling filed Wednesday allows the plaintiffs to bring new challenges to the district court if they choose. Holloway has not yet responded to 13News Now's interview request.

READ THE FULL DOCUMENTS

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Judgment - July 27, 2022

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit Judges' Opinions

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