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32,000 people: Where are they at now?

January 14, 2011
By Delegate John Doyle

West Virginia's official population as determined by the 2010 census is just over 1,852,000. This represents a gain of about 45,000 people over the 2000 census, which placed us at about 1,807,000.

The 2010 figure was surprisingly high. The annual population estimates made by the U.S. Department of Commerce, which houses the U.S. Bureau of the Census, gave West Virginia just less than 1,820,000 on July 1, 2009. This would have meant a gain of only about 13,000 people in nine years and three months. The official Decennial Census is done on April 1 of each year ending in "zero," while the estimates are done as of July 1 in each of the other nine years.

Are we to believe that all of a sudden 32,000 people entered the Mountain State (either by birth or in migration) in a period of nine months while only 13,000 appeared via either method in the previous nine years plus? I don't think so.

I think it is much more likely that these people were missed by the methodology used for the annual estimates. Or perhaps West Virginia's population was undercounted in 2000 and the 2010 census was more accurate (the newest census figure is used as a baseline for the estimates over the next nine years). Maybe there's another explanation.

We may never know. What we do know is that the 1,852,000 figure is the one we must use for congressional and legislative redistricting when the Legislature does that in a special session this summer or fall. This figure means that each single-member House of Delegates district must have a population close to 18,520 and that each two-member Senate district must have about 109,000 people in it. It also means that each of our three congressional districts must be as close to 617,000 people as possible.

There's something else we don't know. Where specifically in our state are those 32,000 people the annual estimates missed? We won't know that until we get the county-by-county population figures from the Census Bureau in late March (after the Regular Session of the Legislature has been completed).

Where those people turn out to be will have a significant effect on redistricting.

We do have county-by-county figures for the annual estimates. According to those, Jefferson County gained over 10,000 people (almost as much as the entire estimated statewide gain of 13,000) between April 1, 2000 and July 1, 2009. Berkeley County gained more than twice as many people (over 27,000) as the total estimated statewide gain during that time. Had the annual estimates been correct, the Eastern Panhandle would have gained two House of Delegates seats in this year's redistricting.

Are the bulk of those extra 32,000 people in counties like Jefferson and Berkeley, which the estimates said had the highest total population gains? That's a logical conclusion. If that theory turns out to be accurate, the Eastern Panhandle would pick up three House of Delegates seats, not just two.

But another theory holds that these 32,000 are mostly people who left the state to work, but then lost their jobs and moved back home with relatives. According to this theory the annual estimates missed them because they were "flying under the radar." If that's true, they are most likely spread relatively evenly throughout the state's population. This would mean the Eastern Panhandle would get the two extra delegates the population estimates predicted.

Aha, but what if the bulk of these 32,000 people happen to be in counties that the annual estimates did not foresee to be gaining? The likeliest chance for that would be if the 2000 census had an undercount which was corrected by the 2010 census. If that's the case, then the Eastern Panhandle will get only one additional delegate seat.

The same uncertainty applies to the rest of redistricting. We won't know how we will be permitted to draw any congressional or legislative districts until we know where those 32,000 people are. So, anybody thinking of running for the Legislature or for Congress had better presume absolutely nothing about district lines until we get the county-by-county figures and the figures for the smaller divisions of people within the counties (called "enumeration districts") that we'll get at the same time.

On a related matter, I fume every time I see references in local media to the Eastern Panhandle being treated unfairly in "legislative redistricting" in 2001. That's an urban myth.

The Senate did indeed treat us unfairly. Our Senate district was seriously OVERpopulated (in other words, UNDERrepresented). But the House of Delegates did the reverse. The House purposely UNDERpopulated the Eastern Panhandle delegate districts so much that it meant we got TWO additional delegates rather than ONE. I think the overrepresentation we got in the House compensated for the underrepresentation in the Senate and that overall legislative redistricting was fair to the Eastern Panhandle.

We had 19 people at our town meeting at the Robert C. Byrd Center for Legislative Studies on Jan. 3. That was a much better than average turnout for this type of meeting, so I was quite pleased.

The second town meeting will be held at the Harpers Ferry Town Hall on Saturday, Jan. 15 at 1 p.m.



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