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Redistricting finally solved for state

By Staff | Aug 26, 2011

The State Legislature concluded its second special session on redistricting Sunday evening, Aug. 21, with the Senate adopting the House of Delegates redistricting plan by a vote of 15-14 with five absences.

Several senators who voted for the plan told me in private they wanted to vote against it. They were as disappointed as I that we did not make enough progress toward an all single-member district system of representation. However, had the plan been defeated the House would have had to continue work for another few days with little prospect of major change.

We had been called back to pass a second House redistricting bill because two technical flaws were found in the first one, which the governor vetoed. In two cases, amendments made on the last day of the first session caused some people to be “double-counted.”

Those last-day amendments moved some census blocks of residents from one delegate district to another in each case. While the map was right, the language of the bill itself placed the residents in question into the delegate district to which they were intended to be transferred but failed to remove them from the district from whence they were supposed to be removed.

I initially thought that making these corrections would be all that we would do. But we did some substantive work, as well. Some of that substantive work was here in the Eastern Panhandle.

Many residents of Berkeley and Morgan counties were disturbed about some of the changes made to their districts in the bill that originally passed the legislature on Aug. 5. As a result, Delegate Tiffany Lawrence and I agreed to about a dozen changes in the map for those two counties.

Some of them were important. The town of Bath (“Berkeley Springs” to its more intimate associates) had been placed in a district straddling the Berkeley County-Morgan County line. The majority of the population of that district is in Berkeley County. By contrast, the rest of Morgan County is in a district with part of Hampshire County and Morgan holds the majority in that district.

Bath is the county seat of Morgan County. I was persuaded by several people that the county seat of Morgan County should logically be placed in the district in which Morgan has a majority of the people, not the one in which Morgan has a minority of the population. We made that change in the bill passed on Aug. 21.

We had intended to put all of the city of Martinsburg’s 17,227 people in the same delegate district. We had inadvertently left out (in the bill passed on Aug. 5) some precincts which had been recently annexed by Martinsburg. We corrected that mistake in the Aug. 21 bill. We also added several precincts that are adjacent to Martinsburg to the southwest to the Martinsburg delegate district since rumor has it that’s the direction Martinsburg is interested in moving for its next annexations.

The town of Hedgesville (population 242), the only other municipality in Berkeley County outside of Martinsburg, has been in the same delegate district as Martinsburg for many years. It was kept in that delegate district in the Aug. 5 bill. We decided that it made sense to move it out of the Martinsburg dominated district, and the Aug. 21 bill does so. Adding the additional residents of Martinsburg and environs made that district too large.

The other substantive change was made to districts in Raleigh, Summers and Monroe counties. They have the same number of districts, but the lines were drawn differently.

The minority leader, Delegate Tim Armstead of Kanawha County, again offered his amendment to create 100 single-member districts. Delegate Lawrence and I both voted against it on Aug. 5, but both of us voted for it this time.

Regular readers of this column know that I strongly believe in the concept of single-member districts. But I regard the minority leader’s plan as flawed because it pits legitimately elected incumbents against each other in areas that are not losing representation. I think it’s not fair to either the members or the voters to do this. Incumbents must quite properly compete with challengers. But I don’t think they should be placed against each other when a new single-member district is created next door which will be guaranteed to have a new person elected in it.

I was at sixes and sevens each time, and could easily have gone either way each time. On Aug. 5 I voted against what I consider flawed execution. The second time I voted in favor of what I believe to be a good concept.