After a summer-long tour of the state to hear what West Virginians had to say about the process of drawing new Congressional and state legislative political districts, lawmakers are beginning the technical work of the 2021 redistricting process.
West Virginians still are able to give their input to lawmakers on the state Senate and House redistricting committees, the former of which had its first meeting Thursday in the West Virginia Capitol.
The meeting was the first of what Committee Chairman Charles Trump, R-Morgan, said would be a series of meetings leading up to the week of Oct. 10 when he said lawmakers anticipate Gov. Jim Justice will call a special legislative session to complete the 2021 redistricting process.
Trump, who attended all 12 of the in-person redistricting hearings and the three virtual hearings, said he’d gotten a lot of productive feedback from West Virginians as to how they want this process to work.
“People really want us to engage in the process, be open, be transparent and be willing to hear from them as we consider maps of Congressional districts and Senate districts,” Trump said.
Members of the Senate Redistricting Committee on Thursday adopted procedural rules and heard a presentation about constitutional requirements and other considerations for them to take into account as they draw a map and convert it into a bill for the full Senate to approve.
Both of West Virginia’s legislative bodies are holding to at least one past precedent — each body will adopt its own map for its own districts before sending that map to the other chamber.
In other words, the House of Delegates will approve a House district map and send it to the Senate, and the Senate will approve a Senate district map and send it to the House.
Lawmakers in both chambers will draw Congressional districts for the other legislative body to consider.
The House Redistricting Committee is scheduled to convene for its first meeting at 9 a.m. on Sept. 30. The Senate Redistricting Committee will reconvene for its second meeting at 3 p.m. the same day.
Trump said members of the Senate Redistricting Committee should expect to meet every day from Oct. 4 to 8 leading up to the expected special session.
During Thursday’s meeting, Trump noted to committee members that the West Virginia Constitution requires them to draw no fewer than 12 state Senate districts and that those districts must have two members each.
The West Virginia Senate is comprised of 17 districts, some with multiple counties, making for a 34-member Senate.
When a state Senate district has multiple counties, the two senators can’t be from the same county.
The state Senate had 15 districts until the early 20th Century, when lawmakers added a 16th District. He said the 17th Senate District was added in 1964.
Trump said that constitutional requirement meant senators, if they so choose, could add or subtract districts as they draw the 2021 Senate district map.
“We are familiar with 17 districts because we all serve the citizens of the state who have sent us her from 17 districts,” Trump said. “It would be an option for this legislature to consider different configurations.”
Among the procedural rules the Senate committee adopted were rules that allow committee members to participate and vote in the meetings virtually, similar to how Senate committees operated during the 2021 Regular Legislative Session. At least three committee members virtually participated in Thursday’s meeting.
Committee members who submit maps or amendments to maps are required to submit them to the committee at least 24 hours in advance of a committee meeting to allow time for lawmakers to study them and legislative staff to post the maps on the West Virginia Legislature Redistricting webpage for public consideration and comment.
“I think this is a really important piece of this,” Trump said. “I’ve heard all of us commit publicly to being open and transparent in this process.”
Liz Schindzielorz, general counsel for the committee, gave the presentation about the Constitutional requirements for drawing the new districts as well as other things for committee members to consider that aren’t constitutional requirements.
Constitutional requirements include that the maps be drawn with reasonable population equality, meaning each district has to be as close as possible to having the same number of people in each district.
Equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is a requirement, and the state Constitution requires districts to be drawn with compactness, contiguity, meaning a multi-county district would have to include counties that border each other, and the districts have to be in keeping with county lines as closely as possible.
Schindzielorz provided a list of other considerations that were part of the redistricting process in 2011.
The other considerations aren’t constitutionally required, but they represent some best practices for redistricting and are among some of the requests people made of lawmakers during the public hearings this summer.
The other considerations include:
n Respecting municipal boundaries
n Preserving the cores of existing districts
n Avoiding contests between incumbents
n Maintaining communities of interest, meaning lawmakers would try to avoid cutting up neighborhoods
n Avoiding districts that favor or disfavor any political party, candidates, or incumbents
n Prohibiting the use of partisan data
n Requiring lawmakers to draw competitive districts
n Requiring lawmakers to draw proportional districts.
The West Virginia Legislature is required to redraw state legislative and federal Congressional maps every 10 years after receiving population data following the U.S. Census.
This year, the Legislature is working under a tighter-than-normal schedule because of the delayed release of the 2020 U.S. Census data. The data typically is released in April, following a census year, but COVID-19 led to delays. The preliminary 2020 census data was released in August.
Trump previously said he expects the Legislature to adopt the new district maps during the expected special legislative session the second week of October.