House Seats Secure for Region

Some legislators representing the Northern Panhandle, including Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Marshall, Wetzel and Tyler counties, worry our region will lose one member of the West Virginia House of Delegates after 2020. Maybe not.

Some change is inevitable, however, and it has nothing to do with politics.

We also could see the center of power in one of our two state Senate districts shift eastward.

After the 2020 census is completed, West Virginia will have to redraw the boundaries we use to elect members of both houses of the Legislature. House of Delegates members are pursuing a plan whereby the state would be divided into 100 separate delegate districts, each represented by one lawmaker.

We have 67 districts now, each with varying numbers of delegates, ranging from one to five (part of Kanawha County). It is a crazy-quilt arrangement. Shifting to 100 single-member districts makes sense, though some Democrats insist it is just another form of gerrymandering.

Under the current system, the Northern Panhandle has nine delegates (counting Delegate William “Roger” Romine, who represents Tyler and Doddridge counties and part of Pleasants). We have eight delegates representing the northern five counties in our region.

We’ll probably keep the eight we have now — at least, based on current population estimates by the Census Bureau. It’s the ninth seat that’s a concern.

Federal law — think one man, one vote — will require that if we have 100 delegate districts, each will have to be as near in population to the others as possible. Based on the Census Bureau’s current estimate that West Virginia has 1,815,857 people, that would require districts as close to 18,159 residents as feasible.

Like most of the state, Northern Panhandle counties have been bleeding population for years. The six counties are down to 151,488 people. We had 158,086 in the 2010 Census.

But — a big “but,” here — the northern five counties have 142,516 residents. Divide that by 18,159, and you find that Hancock, Brooke, Ohio, Marshall and Wetzel Counties would be entitled to 7.8 delegates. Add 2,756 people from Tyler County to Wetzel County’s 15,640, and you have enough for a delegate district — giving a total of eight for the northern segment of the Northern Panhandle.

It’s when you hit Tyler County that there’s a potential problem. It has just 8,972 residents, meaning that if you take 2,756 to add to the new Wetzel County district, you’re left with only about one-third of what it takes to form a new district.

Even now, however, Tyler isn’t big enough for its own district. It’s combined with Doddridge and part of Pleasants. A new 100-district plan could retain something like that.

Bottom line: If the 2020 census turns out anything like current population estimates, the Northern Panhandle may not lose a delegate.

State Senate districts are a bit more problematic, especially since members of that body haven’t moved forward with a redistricting plan, yet.

It appears the state constitution requires two-member districts, as we have now. Sticking with that — again, assuming current population figures — would require senatorial districts with 106,815 residents each.

That would leave District 1intact, more or less, intact, but with its boundary shifted somewhat farther south into Marshall County.

It’s District 2, where the senators (Mike Maroney from Marshall County and Charles Clements from Wetzel County) now come from riverfront areas that could see a shift.

It’s a big area and, while most of its counties have lost population, Marion and Monongalia — parts of which are in the district — have gained. In other words, a redistricting could give them more power to elect senators from their region, rather than ours.

For now, it’s all speculation, based on guesses about population. But unless something changes drastically, it appears Northern Panhandle clout in the House will remain intact — but our power in the state Senate may decline.

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