Should Virginia Beach change how it elects city council members?

Posted at 2:50 PM, Jul 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-20 16:21:44-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Right now, all voters in the city can vote for each city council member, but is it time for the system to change?

City council member Jessica Abbott is proposing putting the question to voters during a referendum in November. "To me it's important that we get a pulse on the voting bloc and we get reliable data on what people are interested in," Abbott said.

The city has eleven city council members, including the mayor, three at-large members, and seven district members. Those seven have to live in their districts, but everyone can vote for them. Abbott wants to add the ballot question to see if people think those seven should only be elected by people living in their districts.

"I think this is an appropriate first step to see where we're at," she said. Abbott supports moving to a district voting system, but said she wants to see what the rest of the city thinks.

On Tuesday, city council members will hold a public hearing on adding the non-binding referendum to the ballot in November. They'll vote at a later date.

Abbott says the specific question would be: "Should the City Council adopt an ordinance requesting a change to the City Charter that would provide for the election of council members who represent each of the City’s seven residence districts only by voters who reside in the respective residence districts, as opposed to the current system of at-large voting?”

The issue has been talked about for years and was previously a referendum question in 1996, Abbot said. She says she wants to hear from younger voters who haven't gotten a chance to weigh-in previously.

Even if the question is added to the ballot and voters approve it, the General Assembly would have to change the city charter. "I do think there is some concern in the community at large that we're going to change the voting system right now, which is just not the case," Abbott said.

Still, some of Abbott's colleagues are concerned the process is going too fast. "I think to change our system of government demands a tremendous amount of public discussion and debate," City council member Barbara Henley said during the July 14 meeting.

If you want to weigh-in during the public hearing, you can do so in person on Tuesday or virtually.