West Virginians got their first glimpse at proposed legislative and congressional districts Thursday when lawmakers responsible for drawing the maps met at the state Capitol.
Members of the Legislature’s redistricting committees didn’t vote on any maps, but there were glimpses of what lawmakers’ priorities are, at least in terms of the Mountain State’s two congressional districts.
In addition to the proposed maps, members of the House Redistricting Committee heard a presentation for a new state law that aims to provide more robust and accurate voting precinct and geographical data.
Lawmakers and residents have proposed at least a dozen congressional maps between the House and Senate committees, and a potential map for House of Delegates districts made its debut Thursday morning.
Senators didn’t present a proposed Senate district map Thursday. Instead, the Senate Redistricting Committee’s agenda was focused on discussion of the congressional map, which split the state into two districts because West Virginia lost its third congressional seat to population loss.
The unveiling of the maps also showed the ideal number of people per congressional district and per House district, to balance them equally.
The state’s congressional districts ideally would have 896,858 people, and each House district would have 17,937 people, based on 2020 U.S. Census data.
While members of the Senate and House committees saw proposed congressional maps, only the Senate committee discussed any of the proposals.
Legislative leaders anticipate that Gov. Jim Justice will call a special session for the week of Oct. 10 to formalize the redistricting process and deal with other issues, likely including the appropriation of federal funds.
The Legislature’s work on drawing the district maps was slowed because of the delayed release of the census data.
After a meeting last week where he said he planned for the Senate Redistricting Committee to meet Thursday, Friday and, potentially, every day next week, panel chairman Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, on Thursday, said the committee and public might need more time to process the maps they were seeing.
That committee adjourned without a set date for its next meeting, but Trump told committee members to expect it to be in the middle of next week.
“This process is moving slower than I thought it might,” Trump said. “I want to give time for a couple of things. One is posting of the preferred maps of the members of this committee ... and time for the public to be able to react to what we’ve done.”
The comments in the Senate committee followed a brief debate about proposed congressional districts that was largely focused on a map proposed by Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam.
Jeffries’ proposal largely followed the I-64 corridor from Cabell County to the I-79 corridor through North Central West Virginia. The Eastern Panhandle and Southern West Virginia, up to Cabell and Wayne counties, were in one district, with the other containing the Northern Panhandle stretching down into Kanawha and Putnam counties.
Supporters of the map liked its proximity to the interstate systems, but others said it favored the more population-heavy northern part of the state.
Senators David Sypolt, R-Preston, and Rupie Phillips, R-Logan, supported the Jeffries map, with Phillips saying the grouping of northern and southern counties would provide “fuel” from places including Morgantown and Martinsburg, for Southern West Virginia.
Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, said that map wrote off Southern West Virginia, and lumped together counties that do not have common interests.
Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, said the Jeffries map also disproportionately favored the northern part of the state, adding that, if those were the districts lawmakers created, “the southern part of the state would probably never see a person elected to Congress.”
There already were expectations for substantial district changes in the House after the Legislature voted in 2018 to switch from multi-member districts to 100 single-member districts this cycle.
The first iteration of that map included districts in parts of the state where there aren’t any incumbent delegates.
“We have worked as hard as we can to create the most fair map possible,” House Speaker Roger Hanshaw, R-Clay, said. “I think you’ll see this is a competitive map.”
The House committee adopted motions to delay considering any of the maps until the public and other lawmakers have the chance to study them.
“The goal for today was to basically get the information out to the public so they would have something visual to look at,” said House Redistricting Committee Chairman Gary Howell, R-Mineral. “Now, the map is out there in the public, and the public will get the opportunity to look at it. We’re going to hear things from them and be able to adjust from that.”
Thursday was the first day Democrat lawmakers in the House saw the proposed map, said House Minority Leader Doug Skaff, D-Kanawha, who said the Republican majority leaders were inviting and receptive of the minority party’s input.
Skaff is the president of HD Media, parent company of the Charleston Gazette-Mail.
The House also will consider a bill borne out of anomalies that lawmakers found in the state’s most recent census data.
The House Redistricting Committee will consider a bill that would require the state Geographic Information Systems Technical Center to submit geographical and other population data to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the event individual county clerks do not submit it.
West Virginia ended up with irregular census blocks, because county clerks in 13 counties did not submit precinct and other geographical data to the Census Bureau, House Redistricting Committee general counsel Brian Casto said Thursday.
Of particular concern were “donut blocks,” where one census block had another census block completely inside of it, which is something Casto said is not supposed to happen.
The census blocks are the smallest measurements of data compiled by the Census Bureau. Lawmakers legally cannot break up census blocks when drawing legislative district maps.
“Conceptually speaking, the smallest possible unit we can work with in the assembly of the maps ... is the census block,” Casto said. “You can think of it as the atom: Everything is laid out in census blocks, just as all matter is made from atoms.”
Like with the proposed maps, the House Redistricting Committee voted to delay considering the bill.