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How seats directly affect the county

January 21, 2011
Delegate John Doyle

Last week we talked about the whereabouts in West Virginia of 32,000 people and how that might affect the amount of additional representation the Eastern Panhandle would get when the Legislature redistricts itself later this year.

32,000 is the difference between the 1,820,000 people living in our state according to the US Commerce Department's estimate as of July 1, 2009 and the 1,852,000 living here on April 1, 2010 according to the official Decennial Census (the figure we must use for redistricting). We know the county-by-county population figures for the 1,820,000 but not the county-by-county figures for the extra 32,000.

I mentioned that Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan Counties could get collectively anywhere from one to three extra seats in the House of Delegates from redistricting this year. But how would this directly affect Jefferson County?

If our three-county area ends up getting only one additional delegate seat, then Jefferson (which has about a third of the population of the three-county area) would get an additional one third of a seat. Instead of having the 2.4 delegates we have now we would have 2.7 to 2.8 delegates.

Practically speaking this means we would still have two delegate districts entirely within Jefferson County and share a third delegate with Berkeley County. The difference would be that the district we share with Berkeley would have two-thirds of its population in Jefferson County. Presently slightly less than 40 percent of the population of that third district is in Jefferson County. Each of the two districts entirely in Jefferson County (represented right now by Delegates Tiffany Lawrence and I) would have to lose the equivalent of one medium size precinct to that third district (now represented by Delegate Eric Householder of Berkeley County) to bring the three districts into population conformity.

If the Eastern Panhandle picks up two additional delegate seats, Jefferson would gain about two-thirds of a delegate seat (for a total of about 3.07 seats). Because the legislature likes to redistrict along county lines whenever possible, this would mean that Jefferson would have exactly three delegate districts within its borders (since that .07 divided between the three districts would not put them more than 5 percent above the "optimal" population for a delegate district we discussed a few weeks ago). Each of the two existing full districts would have to surrender the equivalent of two medium size precincts to the third district to make it whole.

If, however, Jefferson, Berkeley and Morgan Counties pick up three delegate seats between them, Jefferson would end up with three delegate districts and over half of a fourth. The district we share with Berkeley County would have the same number of people living in Jefferson County that the current split district has, but that there would be many fewer people in it living in Berkeley County. The population of Jefferson outside the split district would be divided into three delegate districts instead of two.

All of this is, of course, speculation until we get the final county-by-county population figures from the US Bureau of the Census in March or April.

The configuration of our new senate districts also depends on how these county-by-county numbers end up. If the numbers show the Eastern Panhandle has a really high percentage of the 32,000 people whose whereabouts are unknown (on the theory that most of them are in areas that have been growing) then at least half of one senate district will be in Jefferson County. The rest of the population of that district will be in Berkeley. The next senate district west will have the rest of Berkeley County plus Morgan and Hampshire Counties.

If the Eastern Panhandle has about the same share of these 32,000 people as it does of the 2009 estimate then we'll have one senate district with all of Jefferson and a slightly larger number of people in Berkeley. The next district west would have the rest of Berkeley, all of Morgan, all of Hampshire and either all of Hardy County or part of Mineral County.

If the Eastern Panhandle has a considerably lower share of the 32,000 than of the 2009 estimate, then we'll have a significantly larger share of Berkeley County in the easternmost senate district. The next district west could include all of Mineral County.

Some people seem to think that if a new senate district is created that has no incumbent in it that district would elect two senators in 2012, not just one. Not so. These are election districts. The 17 senators elected in 2010 will continue to represent the districts that elected them (in their current format) until 2014. The only way a senate district would elect more than one senator is if the state Senate increased its membership, adding one or more two-seat districts. That is very unlikely to happen.

All of us representing the Eastern Panhandle will work to get the most representation possible for our area when we do redistricting. I think our area should have all of its Senate and House districts underrepresented, because everybody knows we're going to continue to grow.

But most legislators from other parts of the state will fight us. It was only because then-House Speaker Bob Kiss went to bat for the Eastern Panhandle in 2001 that we got a good deal in House redistricting that year.

And federal court rulings encourage districts to be as close to the "optimal" number possible. Exceptions to that rule include geographic compactness, commonality of interest, using existing political boundaries and even incumbent protection. But no court ruling has said we can use "projected growth" as a reason for drawing a line a certain way.



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