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Area gains two additional seats in House

April 1, 2011
Delegate John Doyle

Just over a week ago the U.S. Census Bureau released its 2010 geographic and demographic data for West Virginia. The total population was known last fall (1,823,994 for a gain of 2.5 percent over the last decennial census in 2000).

The eastern eight counties of our state (the "greater" Eastern Panhandle) gained exactly enough population for two additional seats in the House of Delegates. This means an increase from 12 to 14 seats in the 100-member House.

Jefferson County has a population of 53,498. That justifies 2.94 house members, using the "optimal" single-member district population of 18,530. The optimal number is the number of people every district would have were the districts to be exactly even in population.

Jefferson's population in 2000 justified 2.3 delegates, which is why we have two districts entirely within our county and share a third with neighboring Berkeley. Since the Eastern Panhandle delegate districts were made smaller in population than the "optimal" number in 2000 (to give us extra representation) the district we share with Berkeley had more Jeffersonians in it than would have been the case had the optimal number been used.

Jefferson is now obviously very close to the optimal population for exactly three delegates. Each of those three districts would be well above the minimum population federal law requires for a district. That figure is 5 percent below the optimal, in this case 17,604. (The most people that can be in a single-delegate district is 19,456, or 5 percent above the optimal number.) So I believe Jefferson County will get three delegate districts entirely within its borders and no part of the county will be paired up with a portion of Berkeley in a district.

Berkeley County presently has three delegate districts entirely within its borders and shares another with neighboring Morgan as well as the one with Jefferson. It has the greater portion of the population in each of those two shared districts. Berkeley's population in 2000 justified 4.2 delegates using the optimal figure. It's 2010 population of 104,169 justifies 5.6 delegates by the same standard.

It would be theoretically possible to squeeze six delegates into Berkeley County, but I don't think that's going to happen. Ten years ago then-Speaker of the House Bob Kiss was committed to giving the Eastern Panhandle as much representation as legally possible, since it was obvious that we were going to continue to grow at a greater pace than the rest of the state. Many delegates from other parts of the state resented that and I fear we may not be able to get the support necessary to do that this year.

Also, there isn't nearly as strong a belief this year as there was ten years ago that the Eastern Panhandle will continue to grow at a much greater pace than the rest of our state. Oh, we'll continue to grow, all right. But much of West Virginia is beginning to see a population increase greater than in many years.

This is the result of the huge gas reserve discovered recently called the "Marcellus Shale." Some economists think West Virginia will see a population boom rivaling that of the expansion of the southern coalfields in the early half of the twentieth century, when our state grew from about 1 million people to just over 2 million. Between 1950 and 1990 we lost 300,000 people, the result of first mechanization and later automation in the coal mining industry.

If we were able to persuade our fellow delegates to underpopulate our districts as much as federal law allows, Morgan County would not have to be divided between delegate districts (as it now is). Its population of 17,541 is a mere 63 people below the minimum necessary for one delegate. Morgan would need a few people from either Berkeley or Hampshire (its neighbor to the west) for a delegate.

But doing all this would cause the western five counties of the Eastern Panhandle (Hampshire, Mineral, Grant, Hardy and Pendleton) to have too many people for five delegates and too few for six. Portions of counties outside the Eastern Panhandle could be added to make up the difference for six, but that would mean areas of the state losing representation anyway would lose a bit more. Nobody wants to do that. Everybody always digs in their heels to keep from losing any more representation than absolutely necessary.

The media's treatment of the West Virginia census story failed to mention, so far as I can tell, the demographic changes the 2010 census showed. Perhaps that's because they aren't much, by national standards.

We're still one of the "whitest" states in the union. We increased our diversity by a bit, but by much less than the national average (just as our population increased bit by a much smaller percentage than the national average).

In 2000 we were 94.6 percent non-hispanic white. In 2010 that figure is 93.2 percent. Our African-American population increased from 3.1 to 3.4 percent and our remaining minority population (which was only 1 percent in 1990) increased from 2.3 to 3.4 percent. I'm indebted to Melanie Eversley, a reporter for "USA Today," for this demographic information.

Next week we'll talk about redistricting the State Senate and possibly also congressional redistricting.



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