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Redistricting bill faces possible veto

By Staff | Aug 10, 2011

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) – At least one fatal flaw has doomed last week’s redrawing of districts for West Virginia’s House of Delegates, prompting acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin to announce plans Wednesday to veto the measure and call the Legislature back into special session next week for a fix.

Officials continued to check the House legislation for additional errors while also reviewing the redistricting bills for the state Senate and the three congressional districts, passed during last week’s special session.

The House plan includes 14 sections of a Kanawha County voting precinct – just five people lived in these areas during the 2010 Census – in two different three-seat delegate districts.

One of those districts, which is supposed to contain the entire precinct, was amended into the bill when delegates agreed to divide a seven-seat district into two districts of three and four members each.

Tomblin’s office said Wednesday that while his office had yet to receive the final House bill, House officials have concluded that errors mar the bill. The statement from Tomblin’s office also said that a staff review of an earlier version of the bill “confirms that technical errors will require the Governor to veto the legislation.”

“I wholeheartedly agree with Governor Tomblin’s decision to veto the legislation,” said House Speaker Rick Thompson in a statement. “After careful review of the 450-page legislation and accompanying map, we have found a few portions – those that were amended during the floor session – in which the census blocks were not properly adjusted.”

Tomblin had already been called upon to veto the bill by supporters of single-member districts for all 100 seats. Next week’s do-over would again allow those advocates to press their case.

The flawed House plan increases the number of single-seat districts from 36 to 47. It also distributes 40 more seats among two- and three-member districts. But the plan also contains two four-seat districts as well as a five-member district representing Monongalia County – likely one of the largest multi-member districts proposed for any state’s legislature, given the national trend toward single-seat districts.

Critics of the House plan also questioned whether it followed provisions in the state constitution addressing the division of counties among multiple districts. Kanawha County lawyer Thornton Cooper announced plans this week to sue over the House plan. The state GOP said it planned to make sure a legal challenge was brought against the plan. It and the state Chamber of Commerce called for a veto for Tomblin, with the chamber also reviewing the bill for a potential lawsuit.

The 2010 Census results require states to ensure their legislative and congressional districts provide equal representation. Last week’s special session yielded a Senate plan that kept 42 of West Virginia’s 55 counties intact among that chamber’s 17 districts. The congressional plan merely moved Mason County from the 2nd U.S. House district to the 3rd.