Redistricting Committee Convenes

CHARLESTON – West Virginia lawmakers began the preliminary work of redrawing district lines in the state Tuesday, according to local House of Delegates members.

The House Redistricting Committee convened for the first time Tuesday and heard testimony from Secretary of State Natalie Tennant and the state’s County Clerks Association.

Legislative Manager Aaron Allred, meanwhile, provided the numbers to the delegates. Based on West Virginia’s 2010 census count of 1.85 million residents, the ideal population sizes are 617,665 residents for West Virginia’s three Congressional districts; 18,530 to be represented by each of the 100 delegates elected; and 109,000 for each two-seat Senate district.

The issue of having single delegate districts is likely to be discussed this year as the Legislature tackles the issue of redistricting.

The County Clerks Association wants district lines redrawn by Labor Day, Sept. 5, so polling places and precincts can be adjusted before the 2012 election. Tennant added that extra time also is needed in the event of legal challenges to the new district lines.

The first meeting of the House Redistricting Committee on Tuesday largely was procedural, said Delegate Erikka Storch, R-Ohio.

“Unfortunately, I don’t know a whole lot more than I did before I got here,” she said. “They tell me there will be a lot more discussion during our July interims.”

Delegate Ryan Ferns, D-Ohio, agreed the meeting was “really just organizational” and that there was “not a whole lot of information to be learned” Tuesday.

“It was just the initial meeting … ,” said Delegate Randy Swartzmiller, D-Hancock, also a member of the House Redistricting Committee. “There was a lot of information, and we learned what the numbers are … that the state had growth overall. We learned what will work and what probably won’t work … but it’s still early.”

Swartzmiller said the Legislature is looking at the population loss in the Northern Panhandle.

“We have to find a way we can maintain everyone we have, representative-wise, so we don’t lose our voice,” he continued.

The Senate also has formed a redistricting task force comprised of half its members, which so far has held nine hearings around the state. One of these took place in Wheeling.

Acting Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, said the Senate will prepare redistricting plans in anticipation of a special session is August.

“I have not heard for certain from the governor (acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin) when we will have the special session,” Kessler said. “No plans have been drawn yet, and it is premature to speculate until after the public hearing process – until after we have heard from all areas of the state.”