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Looking forward to 2021 redistricting

By Delegate John Doyle - Report From the Legislature | Nov 6, 2020

This was written before election results were reported, so I know not if I will have been re-elected when you’re reading this. Whether or not I’ve been returned to office, I thank all who voted and otherwise participated in the November 3 election.

Whether I’m there or not, one issue that will take center stage with the newly elected West Virginia Legislature is redistricting. Redistricting is required every 10 years, in the year after the Decennial Census, which is conducted every 10 years.

Once the result of the census is revealed in January or February, analysis of existing legislative districts begins. Lines dividing those districts must be re-drawn, making the districts roughly equal in population. Districts were equal when the lines were last drawn, 10 years previous, but shifts in population will have caused them to be no longer equal.

“Legislative” means any lawmaking body, and redistricting is required for any body that is divided by districts. It applies to the U.S. Congress, the state legislature, county commissions, city or town councils and even the county board of education. It does not apply to bodies that are elected “at large” (over the entirety of the population governed by that body), unless there are rules about residency. Our county commission, our school board and some of the municipalities in Jefferson County are elected in this manner. The whole county (or municipality) chooses each member, but there are “residential” rules to make sure that not all the elected members of the body come from nearby each other.

In West Virginia, as in most states, redistricting of the U.S. Congress and the state legislature is done by the legislature. Some states have created independent non-partisan (or bipartisan) redistricting commissions, in an attempt to eliminate “gerrymandering” (drawing the lines to benefit certain politicians). I wish West Virginia would create an independent commission. I think the people should select their representatives, not vice versa.

The redistricting done in 2021 will take effect for the 2022 election. It’s important to note that these districts are “election” districts. The means that a person holding an office (such as State Senate or County Commission) that is not on the ballot in 2022 does not lose her or his seat, should the new lines put that person in another district. The person serves the entirety of the term to which he or she was elected. But if that person wants to run for another term in that same office, she or he will be in a different district, unless the person changes residence to remain in the original district.

Decennial redistricting has been mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court, most notably in two landmark decisions in the 1960s (Baker versus Carr and Reynolds versus Sims).

West Virginia will most likely lose a seat (dropping from three to two) in the U.S. House of Representatives this year. In the 1950s our state had six House of Representatives members. The Eastern Panhandle will gain representation in the State Legislature.

John Doyle is a delegate for the West Virginia District 67. He can be reached at johndoyle@wvhouse.gov.