The West Virginia Senate Redistricting Committee on Wednesday started with 24 potential congressional maps and ended with 23 maps and the understanding that more are coming.
The committee spent the bulk of its roughly 2-hour meeting at the state Capitol in an open-ended discussion about how to measure the contiguity of a given map and which maps senators liked or disliked the most.
In the end, the committee didn’t adopt any congressional maps but did vote to eliminate one map that was a duplicate.
“I’m not thinking that we need to vote on anything today,” Committee Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said. “I’m hoping that maybe by toward the end of the week we’re going to be in a position to eliminate some, but I don’t think we need to do that today.”
The committee is scheduled to meet again Thursday afternoon, and Trump said he expects the committee likely also will meet Friday.
Lawmakers have said they anticipate that Gov. Jim Justice will call a special legislative session next week, when they plan to finish the 2021 redistricting process.
In addition to the two-dozen congressional maps, at least five proposed state Senate district maps were posted to the West Virginia Legislature’s Redistricting website a few minutes before the committee meeting began.
Committee members didn’t discuss the proposed Senate district maps, since they adopted a policy that maps must be posted on the website at least 24 hours before a given meeting.
All of the proposed Senate maps included 17 districts, leaving the number of districts unchanged. During a committee meeting last month, Trump told committee members that the West Virginia Constitution requires only a minimum of 12 Senate districts and that they have flexibility to add or subtract districts.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Sen. Chandler Swope, R-Mercer, said he prefers a map that would cut the state into northern and southern congressional districts, saying that was the preference he’d heard from West Virginians during public hearings lawmakers hosted across the state over the summer about the redistricting process.
Sen. Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell, agreed with the principle, saying there are shared cultures and history among West Virginia’s southern and northern counties.
Sen. Glenn Jeffries, D-Putnam, advocated for a congressional map that takes into account comments Woelfel and Sen. Eric Tarr, R-Putnam, made during a meeting last week.
The map Jeffries discussed Wednesday, like the one he presented last week, roughly follows the Interstate 64 and Interstate 79 corridors from the Cabell-Wayne county line up to the Monongalia-Preston county line, with the Eastern Panhandle and Southern West Virginia in one district and the Northern Panhandle and Northeastern West Virginia in another.
The new map pulled Cabell, Putnam and Kanawha counties into one district, the more northern of the two.
Jeffries said it had been his goal to separate Monongalia County and the Eastern Panhandle, saying he prefers eastern and western districts that he thinks would help less-populated parts of the state.
Woelfel said he does not support Jeffries’ new map. He said the geographical area of the district that spans from Jefferson County to Wayne County has conflicting interests and would be a difficult district for one person to provide fair representation. Woelfel submitted his own congressional map proposal ahead of Wednesday’s meeting, but lawmakers didn’t discuss it during the meeting.
The question of how to measure whether any district meets federal contiguity standards was part of the discussion Wednesday, as lawmakers reviewed federally defined methods for measuring contiguity with Liz Schindzielorz, general counsel for the committee.
The committee didn’t determine which measuring method it would use, but Schindzielorz told Trump that committee staff could work to see whether the software they’re using to draw maps is capable of calculating contiguity.
All of the proposed congressional and legislative district maps are available for review on the West Virginia Legislature’s Redistricting website, and residents may leave comments about any of the proposed maps on the website.