Saturday, April 23, 2011

Looking Towards Electoral System Change

It's redistricting year, so that also means redrawing the residency districts for the Virginia Beach City Council. A push will certainly be there to scrap Virginia Beach's obscene at-large voting system.

At-large voting seeks to marginalize the franchise, placing a much greater emphasis on campaign donors than residents. Lineup the checkbooks in the backroom and you can determine who can be a "serious" candidate for City Council. The City has stumbled into past mistakes due to a lack of diversity of opinions and backgrounds at the table. To support at-large voting, you have to believe Virginia Beach is stronger for marginalizing 98% of the population.

What would the new system look like? That would depend on how many district and (if any) at-large seats you go with on Council. In addition, you could turn to some alternate form of voting. Cumulative voting would still mean voting for everyone throughout the City, none of the common publicly spoken arguments against a ward system apply to it, while it would produce a neo-proportional system.

The 2010 Census gave us more of the same from the 2000 Census, but at a slower pace than some expected. However, two central facts remain. First, what population growth Virginia Beach is experiencing is entirely minority. Second, there were fewer Whites in Virginia Beach in 2010 than in 1990. "White flight" has been on here for a generation now.

There are three possible areas for drawing minority-majority Council districts or influence districts:

1. Densest minority concentration - the Baker Corridor, stretching in a crescent from Burton Station to the northwest corner of the Virginia Beach Boulevard/Witchduck Road intersection, via Lake Edward.

2. Largest minority concentration - stretching diagonally from Green Run to Seatack, through Oceana NAS.

3. Centerville District is already over 40% minority in the current system.

Status quoers try to run from even discussing an electoral system change. However, the longer they wait to do the inevitable, the less palatable the new electoral system would be for them. If the 2020 Census numbers look like the last two sets, there will be no need to beg next redistricting. In 2021, grassroots inclusionists will have the numbers to simply kick in the door of City Hall. Therefore, 2011 is the last chance for our status quoers to get a reform deal that is good for them.

The fringe right gives lip service towards wanting a ward system, but never lifts a finger towards advocating for one. If they actually want to defend the suburbia they claim to champion, here's their chance. In implementing a ward system, you could draw districts that take in those suburban subdivisions while trying to avoid the Norfolk Southern Corridor. As our Strategic Growth Areas move towards building out, we could eventually have separate Council districts for suburban dwellers and urban dwellers.

Electoral system change is a necessity that will make Virginia Beach stronger by allowing us to work more of our talent into building our city. We're eventually going to have to do it, so why not in 2011? The sooner we get it done, the sooner Virginia Beach can move forward at battle speed.

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