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Legislative redistricting committees take first look at proposed new maps

MORGANTOWN – The House and Senate Select Redistricting Committees took their respective first looks at proposed new district maps Thursday at the Capitol.

The House committee received a legal overview of the redistricting process and then took a quick look at the six proposed congressional maps. Some of those were drawn and proposed by residents and are viewable – along with all other House and Senate maps – at the redistricting website:

With the state’s population loss since the 2010 census, the Congressional maps propose two districts. Some maps divide the two districts into northern and southern, others into eastern and western; some keep the panhandles in the same district, others split them.

Most significant for the House of Delegates will be the new division into 100 single-member districts, following legislation passed in 2018. The are now 67 districts, committee Counsel Jeff Billings, said, with 11 two-member districts, six three-member, two four-member and one five member (the 51st, covering most of Monongalia County).

Under the current maps, district numbers start in the Northern Panhandle with 1 and go south, weave back north and end in the Eastern Panhandle with 67. The singe proposed 100-district maps begins in the south and counts northward, ending in the Northern Panhandle.

On the proposed map, Monongalia is divided among six districts, numbers 86-91.

Mapping by federal and state law is governed by four main principles, various committee attorneys said: population, as close to equal as possible; compactness; respecting county lines; and keeping communities of interest together.

Among the six proposed Congressional maps, population deviation ranged from 10 to 1,808.

Committee Counsel Brian Casto told members that districts are built on census blocks, which are in turn built on precinct boundary data. But 13 of of 55 counties, representing about a third of the state’s population, did not provide precinct boundary data to the U.S. Census Bureau.

So a proposed bill, he said, says that if counties are unable to provide the data, the state office of Geographic Information Services office will compile the data and provide it the to county commission, which would then send it to the Census Bureau. The bill includes a fiscal penalty to stimulate compliance.

There was no discussion and the committee adjourned until a date to be determined.

The Senate committee had no proposed Senate district map. Members looked at and discussed 12 proposed Congressional maps, all with variations on the north-south or east-west division. Chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said more are coming.

Several of the maps divided Cabell, Kanawha and Putnam counties into separate districts. Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, said they should be kept together. Dividing them, “I think would be counterproductive to our economic efforts.”

Sen. Dave Sypolt, R-Preston, said some of the proposed maps lump the state’s growth areas into the same Congressional district, which will make the districts lopsided in terms of population over time.

Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, suggested they use the population data on the proposed maps and compare that to prior census data to see how lopsided growth has been to date; Sypolt said he has all that in a spreadsheet, and Trump will have that sent to the members.

Several members favored maps proposed by Sypolt and Sen. Glen Jeffries, D-Putnam. Among them was Sen. Mike Caputo, D-Marion, who said they keep the Interstate 79 corridor intact.

And Sen. Eric Tarr was among those who said that splitting the panhandles among two districts will mean the southern part of the state will never have a person in Congress.

Trump closed the meeting by saying he hopes the discussion will spur more people to post comments about the proposed maps.

He expects to call another meeting sometime next week, but doesn’t have a day chosen, he said. The governor is expected to call a special session for redistricting and some other matters the week of Oct. 10, to correspond with interim meetings, but whether the session will start Sunday or Monday, he doesn’t know.

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