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Civic Education Series brings state representatives to Byrd Center to discuss redistricting

By Staff | Jul 27, 2018

From left, panel members WV Senator Charles Trump, WV Delegate John Overington and WVU law professor Robert M. Bastress, Jr., speak during the July 16 event. Photo by Tabitha Johnston.

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Delegate John Overington, speaker pro tempore of the the West Virginia House of Delegates; West Virginia senator and chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Charles Trump; and West Virginia University College of Law professor Robert M. Bastress, Jr. all have at least one thing in common — their passion for fair redistricting.

During a July 16 Civic Education Series event at the Robert C. Byrd Center, the three men spoke about the topics of redistricting and gerrymandering, explaining the steps they hope lawmakers will take to avoid gerrymandering during the redistricting in West Virginia, following the 2020 U.S. Census.

“In the three times I’ve been in the redistricting process, it’s been extremely self-serving. The courts have realized that some extreme gerrymandering is unacceptable, while others, if the gerrymandering is less obnoxious, is considered acceptable by the courts,” said Overington, who is retiring in November after 33 years in office.

Overington said he tried to address the issue of gerrymandering this year by introducing a bill to create a fair redistricting committee in 2020, which would be governed by a series of checks and balances — including public hearings — outlined in the bill. His bill was passed over, but he said he hopes a similar bill may be introduced again, sometime in the future.

According to Trump, one issue sets West Virginia apart from the majority of other states during redistricting — residents’ tendency to identify with their counties.

“In West Virginia, perhaps more than any state I’m aware of, people highly identify by their county,” Trump said, mentioning districts should be drawn, as much as possible, to keep counties together.

Agreeing on the need to divide districts by county, equal populations and geography to avoid gerrymandering, the panel said the Eastern Panhandle may experience some changes after the 2020 U.S. Census results come in, due to population growth.

“The demography is this — in the Eastern Panhandle, the population is growing, so the districts are getting fuller,” Trump said, mentioning the overall population loss in West Virginia will also influence redistricting.

Trump and Overington agreed on the importance of having one representative for every district, to ensure equal representation in the state government. According to Overington, West Virginia’s district map shows some gerrymandering in more rural areas of the state, but does not appear to show any gerrymandering happening in the Eastern Panhandle.

“I think the Eastern Panhandle is well represented, when you look at our Legislature. We just have to hold them accountable, when it comes to redistricting,” Overington said.

According to Bastress, the likelihood for fair redistricting may increase in the future, due to modern technology being used to create districts.

“Software redistricting has been developed since the last redistricting, that should help even out redistricting,” Bastress said.