West Virginia lawmakers are about to redraw all of the state's districts. Here's what it means.
It's that time again. The 2020 Census is out, and West Virginia's legislative district lines are being redrawn. The upcoming redistricting process may turn West Virginia on its head.
Here are the major changes on the table and how they could impact citizens across the state.
- West Virginia's population dropped by 59,278 since the 2010 Census. As a result, the state is losing one of its Congressional Districts.
- The state is also making its 67 multi-member House Districts into 100 single-member Districts.
A 32-member redistricting committee made of delegates and senators has the final say on the following question: How should the lines be redrawn?
The joint committee will determine the line to split the first and second Congressional Districts. This decision will be made with a +/-5% population margin.
Currently, the Congressional Districts lay horizontally across the state. The First District occupies the northern tip of West Virginia, Jackson County rests in the second and the southern part makes up the third in a "U" shape.
Del. Steve Westfall, R-Jackson and a member of the redistricting committee, said the new Congressional Districts could be formed by splitting what's now the second district between the northern and southern halves of the state.
Not everyone is on board with this idea. Residents across the state have submitted public comments to the committee expressing their thoughts and concerns about redistricting.
Most of West Virginia's fastest-growing cities lie on the northern side. One concern is that if the Congressional Districts are split into the northern and southern halves of the state, it will create lopsided economic and political advantages. Some comments have proposed the Congressional Districts be split into eastern and western, or northwestern and southeastern halves instead.
A one-member district is where there's only one delegate for that area. Right now some districts in West Virginia have up to five delegates. This will result in smaller districts as well since the state currently has 67 and the committee is redrawing the lines so there's 100.
The 100 single-member districts will be drawn based on population with approximately 18,500 people per district. This is the result of a law that was passed in 2018 — Westfall supported the bill.
Westfall is in favor of seeing county-specific district lines so that representatives aren't strangers to their constituents. He said the new House districts could even help limit gerrymandering possibilities.
Some voting rights organizations disagree. The Princeton Gerrymandering Project said that "This will increase the number of legislative districts, which in turn increases the number of opportunities for partisan offenses to be committed."
West Virginia's redistricting committees only have lawmakers at the table. Ohio has a similar group determining district lines — six legislatures and the state auditor. Virginia, on the other hand, has a commission of 16 people — eight citizens and eight lawmakers.
The gerrymandering project has created a report card tool for redistricting. This map shows how gerrymandered each state's new lines, or the drafts for new lines, may be. Some states have already redrawn their lines. Ohio is listed as having "many" or at least 10 gerrymandered districts and Virginia is labeled as having "some" or five to 10. West Virginia's gerrymandering report card isn't out since the committee hasn't redrawn the lines yet or released drafts.
How will this affect Jackson County?
District 12, which makes up the majority of Jackson County, is already a single-member district. Westfall said his wish list includes "cleaning up" lines in the county.
Over the years Westfall has received calls from people in areas like Evans, an unincorporated town in the county, where people feel disconnected from their delegate. Other concerns involve some Evans residents having to drive to Cottageville to vote instead of walking across the street to the nearest polling location.
Westfall is hopeful that these issues will be taken care of when the house lines are redrawn and finalized in October.
— Katelyn Waltemyer (she/her) is the General Assignment and Enterprise Reporter for Jackson Newspapers in Jackson County, West Virginia. Have a news tip on local government or education? Or a good feature? You can reach Katelyn at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Kate_Waltemyer.