Act Promptly On Redistricting

Federal judges have told West Virginia legislators they have just two weeks to overhaul a congressional redistricting plan that required months of work and controversy to be approved initially. That isn’t much time, but lawmakers have no choice but to make it happen.

Every 10 years, states are required to redraw boundaries of districts used to elect members of the U.S. House of Representatives. The process is meant to take into account population shifts during the preceding decade.

But parties in Jefferson and Kanawha counties objected to the way legislators changed the boundaries earlier this year. They filed a lawsuit in federal court.

On Tuesday, a three-judge panel announced its ruling. The order, issued on a 2-1 vote (Judge John Bailey dissented), was that a new congressional district map must be prepared. The two judges who objected to the existing plan said it does not come close enough to equalizing populations within West Virginia’s three congressional districts.

Many observers thought the plan was a good one. It left the 1st District – ours – unchanged. To equalize populations in the two other regions, it shifted Mason County from the 2nd District into the 3rd District. The plan seemed a relatively clean solution to the problem.

Again, the two federal judges who voted against the existing plan do not agree. They have given legislators until Jan. 17 to come up with a new, acceptable scheme. If that doesn’t happen, the court may order its own redistricting plan be used.

It is possible only minor tinkering will be needed to comply with the court’s mandate. Unfortunately, little time is available to discuss such changes and seek public opinion on them.

Legislators should act quickly to come up with a new redistricting plan, allowing as much time as possible for public comment. And lawmakers should do so by making as few changes as possible to the existing plan.