First West Virginia redistricting maps released
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - During committee meetings on Thursday, West Virginia lawmakers released the first look at how the state will be broken up through the redistricting process.
It’s a process that is completed every 10 years following the census, but this cycle is very different. West Virginia is losing a congressional representative in Washington due to population loss, and the House of Delegates is eliminating multi-member districts in favor of 100 single-member districts.
The House Redistricting Committee released six new congressional map drafts in addition to one House map as part of its first meeting. The Senate Redistricting Committee released 12 different maps for congressional districts as part of its second meeting, and expressed plans to begin working on Senate maps in the near future.
House leaders said their maps will group communities, like neighborhoods and school districts, together to prevent people from being carved apart. The single-member districts will vary greatly in size to allow an average population of around 17,000 people.
“People like to keep counties as whole as possible,” House Speaker Roger Hanshaw (R-Clay) said about feedback he received during a number of public hearings on redistricting. “To the extent possible, don’t separate counties into multiple districts. Well, that is not possible in many of our larger counties because those counties have more than 17,000 residents.”
“The positive aspect of having the single member districts would be you know your delegate,” House Minority Leader Doug Skaff (D-Kanawha) said. “There will be like communities sticking together. That’s what the goal was here. Hopefully, when we get a change to review all 100 single-member districts, there will be commonalities, and people, and communities can all stick together.”
Skaff got a first look at the proposed maps on Thursday morning during the committee meeting and said it is exciting to see certain communities are all within a district and will have a representative from their area. Places like Downtown Charleston, St. Albans and Sissonville will be able to elect a person from their area. He is also planning to take a close look at every boundary to ensure there is no gerrymandering happening from the super-majority Republican leadership.
Hanshaw and Skaff both said it is important to get these maps finalized in October so people have the opportunity to possibly move districts before election filing deadlines. With the loss of multi-member districts, it is likely a handful of current delegates will move to avoid running against someone they currently live near in one of the new 100 districts.
A single line is being drawn on the congressional map to split the state into two districts. The goal is to have the state be as evenly broken up as possible while still keeping communities together.
These map proposals can look a little strange, with a House Clerk even referring to one as the “crab map” because it appears to have a crab with two claws on the southern half of the state.
Multiple senators expressed their concerns during Thursday afternoon’s meeting about the economic impact of drawing congressional boundaries and the power imbalance that could be created. The main issue discussed was creating an eastern and a western district that would divide the northern and eastern panhandles up.
“Dividing up those three communities and those three areas, Cabell, Putnam and Kanawha, I think would be counterproductive to our economic development effort,” Sen. Mike Woelfel said (D-Cabell). “It would he a very negative event should a map like that be drawn.”
“It disproportionately favors the north part of the state significantly,” said Sen. Eric Tarr (R-Putnam). “It makes a lot more sense to have this Kanawha market, this southern side of West Virginia, have a representative from that area. And the northern part of the state have a representative from that area.”
Other senators on the committee, including Sen. Dave Sypolt (R-Preston), said the map should be drawn based on recent population shift trends to prevent the map from no longer properly representing people a few years down the line.
Senate Committee Chairman Charles Trump (R-Morgan) said the goal is to have a finalized proposal by early October, when Gov. Jim Justice has indicated he will call a special legislative session to pass bills on the redistricting.
Members of the public are invited to submit comments about their new districts and can even draw their own maps for lawmakers to consider. The House of Delegates maps include an interactive Google Earth function that allows people to zoom in and see exactly what district they would be in under the current proposal.
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