Ward elections

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See also: Timeline of voting methods use in Charlottesville | Charlottesville City Council (History)

Ward elections were held in the City of Charlottesville between 1889 and 1922 when the city was divided into four relatively equal voting wards designated as First Ward, Second Ward, etc. Each ward constituted an election district, each with a separate voting place (Firehouse, City Hall...) With the adoption of the 1922 Charter, the city eliminated its ward system of electing city council members (the city's governing body) and changed to the current at-large "citywide" elections.

Thought the voting places have changed over the years, the city's wards lines have remained as originally drawn in 1909 and extended after the 1916 Annexation - the number of councilmen per number of constituents ranged from 565 in 1910 to just over 850 by 1920. The current five-member council representation per number of constituents exceeds 9,300. (2020 Census: population of the City of Charlottesville on April 1, 2020, was 46,553[1])

Ward Map, c. 1958
Where city councilors reside within the City of Charlottesville (2004 to 2018). Wards lines based on 1958 Voters Map with lines project to city limits.


After every Federal Census, the boundaries of legislative districts at all levels, federal, state and local, must be reviewed using new census data - and if need be, redrawn to ensure fair and equal representation. Virginia code only allows a variance of 5% or less from an even split of population across all wards in a city. Using 2020 census data, the ideal population for each of the four wards in Charlottesville should be 11,639.

The Virginia Constitution, Article VII Section 5 provides that the governing bodies of counties, cities, and towns are to be popularly elected. The Constitution allows elections at-large or by districts (wards) within the locality. If elections are by districts (wards), the locality must redistrict each 10 years. The Charlottesville council (the city's governing body) is elected at-large, and so the city will not be required to redraw the council district lines established in 1916. According to the Fourteenth Census, taken as of January 1, 1920, the population of Charlottesville was 10,688.

Periodically in Charlottesville’s history, the issue of whether citizens want to continue to be represented by the current at-large members or by ward members elected to City Council has come up for discussion since 1947. Under the current 1946 Charter, all members of the city council are elected at-large to serve the same constituency, which is the population of the city as a whole.


Council Elections Study Task Force

The Charlottesville City Council (2004-2006) first raised the idea of creating the Charlottesville Elections Study Task Force in April 2004 to address public concerns about citizens feeling unrepresented by the current system. [2] An Interim Report of the Study was present to City Council on August 16, 2004[3] The final study noted that any changes to the City’s voting system would require enabling legislation from the Virginia General Assembly and approval from the U.S. Department of Justice. An Addendum to the study included a discussion related to the logistics of changing the voting systems to Proportional-Preference Voting (a form of Ranked-Choice Voting).

1982 Advisory Referendum

  • May 4 – Advisory Referendum held on this Tuesday. Result were as follows: (YES) 2453; (NO) 3382
QUESTION: Shall the form of City Council be changed from the present Council of five members elected by the voters of the entire city to a Council composed of seven members, with four members elected from four separate wards within the city and three members elected by the voters of the entire city?
  • November 16 – Mayor Frank Buck requested the Council vote to hold a second referendum on switching to a ward-based system for Council representation following the passage of a first referendum a couple of weeks prior. [4]

Ward history & geography

  • July 4, 1870 – In accordance with the General Assembly, the town of Charlottesville was divided into four voting wards with four voting locations assigned.
  • September 1, 1888 Charlottesville incorporated as a city. Under the first city charter, granted by the Legislature, Charlottesville's city council consisted of an executive mayor (elected at-large yearly), and a twelve member Board of Aldermen (three aldermen to be elected yearly from four respective wards by plurality vote). the first municipal election under a city charter was held on the fourth Thursday of May in 1889, the city was divided into four wards with four voting locations assigned.

On June 8, 1916, at the regular meeting of the City Council, the special committee consisting of W. R. Barksdale, W. E. Graves, J. H. Lindsay and E. A. Joachim, appointed for the purpose of changing the wards to cover recently annexed territory, reported and the following:

  1. First Ward. All east of the middle of Fifth Street, East, projected in a straight line, as near as may be, north and south to the city limits.
  2. Second Ward. All north of the middle of Main Street from the middle of Fifth Street, East, to the middle of Tenth Street, West, thence along the middle of Tenth Street in a northerly line to city limits.
  3. Third Ward. All south of the middle of Main Street, East, and the middle of Ninth Street, West, thence along the middle of Ninth Street to Grove Street and along the middle of Grove Street in a straight course to the southern boundary of the city.
  4. Fourth Ward. All west of Second and Third Wards – viz: West of middle of Tenth Street extended to northern boundary, and Ninth Street extended along Grove Street to southern boundary of city.

Municipal elections

The form of municipal elections varies from city to city, with three common variations: some cities elect their local representatives by at-large elections, some by district, and some using a mixed system.


These elections select a single council member from a corresponding geographical section of the city, called a district or ward. District election proponents favor having council members elected to represent individual wards because:


All at-large members are elected to serve the same constituency, which is the population of the city as a whole. At-large election proponents favor having council members elected by the entire city because:


More than twenty percent of municipalities combine these two methods by electing some council members at-large and some from districts. Mixed systems which provide more district seats than at-large seats are more likely to stand Constitutional scrutiny.

A 1982 Referendum on mixed ward elections passed. A few weeks later, a second Referendum was called by then mayor Frank Buck and approved by the city council. The second Referendum on the same issue failed.


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