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Senators will be closer with redistricting

The Doyle Report

November 26, 2010
By Delegate John Doyle

Last week we talked about redistricting the West Virginia House of Delegates. This week, let's discuss redistricting the State Senate.

The West Virginia Senate has 34 members, elected from 17 districts with two senators each. Senators serve four-year terms, and half of the Senate (one senator from each district) is elected in each two-year election cycle.

The 16th District covers all of Jefferson County and most of Berkeley County. Since both counties have grown considerably in the last 10 years, this district will shrink by a lot.

Remember, as we discussed last week, no state legislative district may be more than 5 percent greater or smaller in population than the "optimal" size district for that office. Since West Virginia's population will be somewhere near 1,815,000 people, the optimum size for a senate district will be about 107,000 people. Jefferson County will have just over 50,000 people in the new census and Berkeley County twice that.

The new district will therefore consist of Jefferson and about half of Berkeley. Since Jefferson is about half the size of Berkeley, the newly drawn district will have about half its population in Jefferson County and half in Berkeley.

The other half of Berkeley County will be in a district with all of Morgan County, all of Hampshire County and either all of Hardy County or all or part of Mineral County. Hardy County has a population of about 10,000 and Mineral County has about 25,000. At least 10,000 people would be needed from either of the two to make the population of that district close to optimal.

Right now, a small corner of Berkeley County is included with six entire other counties to make up the 15th Senate District. One of the two current senators resides in Pocahontas County and the other resides in Randolph.

While both have paid a lot of attention to Berkeley and Morgan Counties, neither resides anywhere near those counties. In the new district, both senators will reside in or near them.

One very sticky issue will be Kanawha County. Presently, Kanawha has two senate districts (with, of course, two senators each). But each of the districts (the 8th and the 17th) covers the entirety of Kanawha's territory.

Each Kanawha County voter may choose two senators every two years, one from the 8th and one from the 17th.

Why was one senate district superimposed upon the other? It was the easiest way to comply with the series of U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the 1960s that mandated "one person-one vote" representation in state legislatures and in the U.S. House of Representatives. Up until then, Kanawha County, with well over 10 percent of our state's population, had only one senate district out of 16.

Expanding the State Senate from 32 members to 34 and giving Kanawha two districts out of 17 solved the problem. Making each district cover the entire county avoided the question of where to draw the line.

However, Kanawha County has now lost so much population that it can no longer support two entire senate districts. We could expand both of them to include territory outside Kanawha County. But this runs into another consideration.

The state constitution says that if a senate district covers more than one county, the senators must reside in different counties. Were both Kanawha districts to be expanded beyond Kanawha's borders, only two of the four senators could be Kanawha residents. So the redistricting plan adopted by the legislature this summer will almost certainly divide the county into a district including about 60 percent of Kanawha's population and add the other 40 percent to one or two of Kanawha's small neighbors.

Southern West Virginia (outside of Kanawha County) has lost so much population that it will lose about half of a senate district (one senator).

The seat lost by Kanawha County and the seat lost by the rest of the south are the two seats that will move into or close to Berkeley and Morgan Counties.

Traditionally, neither the House of Delegates nor the Senate interferes with the other's redistricting. While the final plan passes as one bill, the House writes its portion and the Senate writes it.



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