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Bill impacting City Council elections in Waynesboro, Virginia Beach headed to Northam’s desk

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Legislation aimed at fixing a dumb rule governing the seating of city council members in Virginia Beach will also go to fix a similar dumb rule in place in Waynesboro.

In both localities, separated by three hours on Interstate 64, the city charters call for the seating of some members of their city councils by district, but the elections are effectively at-large, with voters citywide able to vote across district lines.

The effect: there was this odd tradition in Waynesboro spanning a couple of decades in which the voters of Ward A gave the majority to candidates, but voters citywide went in another direction, and guess who got their way?

“It is important to me that all citizens of our city have an equal voice at the table. To achieve this, we’ve got to have an electoral structure that promotes the opportunity for wards, neighborhoods and its citizens to have equitable representation,” Waynesboro City Council member Terry Short Jr. wrote on Facebook, bringing attention to the plight of HB 2198, legislation introduced by Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler providing that in a locality that imposes district-based or ward-based residency requirements for members of the governing body or school board, the member elected from each district or ward is to be elected by the qualified voters of that district or ward and not by the locality at large.

This just seems like common sense, right?

Except that there was a spirited debate on this on Wednesday in the State Senate, which eventually passed the bill by a narrow 21-18 majority.

The vote in the House of Delegates was also relatively close – 55-45 back on Feb. 1.

“Residents in Virginia Beach have spoken up about the lack of accountability here and the issues that arise when elections are not decided fairly,” Convirs-Fowler said. “I am proud to have been able to continue the work that community leaders, like the late Mr. E. George Minns, worked on for decades.”

Because both houses have passed the bill, it will now head to Gov. Ralph Northam for his signature.

The legislation has an effective date of Jan. 1, 2022, so it would be in place for the local elections in the 2022 cycle.

“I am so grateful to Del. Convirs-Fowler and members of the General Assembly for taking the steps necessary to strengthen our electoral process and truly democratize ward boundary local government across the Commonwealth, especially right here in the City of Waynesboro,” Short said. “Thanks to its passage, every ward, every neighborhood, and every citizen will have the chance to elect representatives that are most keenly aware of the needs and interests of their part of a given community.”

Story by Chris Graham

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