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Senate Redistricting Committee looks at Senate and Congressional maps

MORGANTOWN – The Senate Redistricting Committee met again Thursday to look again at proposed Congressional maps and then turn attention to proposed Senate district maps.

The number of draft Congressional maps submitted to the committee had swelled to 25, with one of those removed during the course of the meeting for having too high a population deviation.

They had five Senate maps before them.

On Congressional maps, committee attorney Liz Schindzielorz followed up on a previous discussion about the possibility of using county growth data to project future population deviation between districts – two of them in West Virginia’s case.

She told the members that court rulings have not expressly forbidden using this, but in cases where it’s been tried, there hasn’t been sufficient evidence presented to justify using it. It’s not considered a traditional redistricting criteria.

Turning to particular maps, Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, indicated his preference for one labeled Trump 13, named for chair Charles Trump, R-Morgan, who received it and had it put in the system.

It’s a north-south map with Wood, Jefferson, Kanawha, Nicholas, Greenbrier and the tiny tip of Fayette serving as the northern border.

It puts Wood and Jackson in the southern district, Woelfel said, along with Nicholas and Greenbrier.

Woelfel agreed with a suggestion that because Kanawha serves as an economic hub for that area, Roane and Clay, which both border it, also should be part of the south.

While it wasn’t discussed, that tweak would require moving one or more counties north to keep the population balance.

Members then turned their attention to Senate district maps. Schindzielorz outlined the constitutional and legal principles governing creation of those districts: population equality, contiguity, compactness, preserving communities of interest and respecting county lines.

Unlike Congressional districts, she said, federal law allows the deviation between the largest and smallest Senate districts to be 10%.

Trump offered a brief history of Senate districts in the 20th century. For most years, counties were undivided. But that’s now impossible, based on the new census data.

The ideal district size this time is 105,513 people per district, compared to abut 110,000 people in 2011.

So the population equality requirement conflicts with the county boundary requirement, he said.

Kanawha and Berkeley are both too large, he said.

Marshall would also have to be divided. The three Panhandle counties north of it have a combined population too small to fit the ideal, so a piece or Marshall has to be added on.

And in the southwest, Cabell has 94,000 people, not quite enough to be a district by itself, he said. Neighboring Wayne, Lincoln, Putnam and Mason all could have a piece carved off, or Cabell could be cut up. There’s nothing dictating which of the five has to be divided.

Still, Trump said, West Virginia is unusual in the nation in that residents tend to define themselves by their county of residence, so it’s been made to honor county lines as much as possible. “I hope we don’t lose sight of that completely.”

The committee will meet again Friday.

Gov. Jim Justice said Thursday he will be issuing his proclamation on Friday to call the redistricting special session, which will begin on Monday.

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