The issue of redistricting in West Virginia is the likely focus of a political forum set this week in Wheeling.
Delegates Ryan Ferns, D-Ohio, and Erikka Storch, R-Ohio, will host a town hall meeting from 7-8:30 p.m. Wednesday at Christ United Methodist Church, 1232 National Road. The delegates are wanting input from the public on how they think district lines for the House of Delegates and U.S. Congress should be drawn in West Virginia.
A major issue regarding redistricting is whether the House members should be elected to represent single-member districts. Ferns and Storch presently represent the 3rd District in the House of Delegates and are serving their first terms.
"I don't think we will see single-delegate districts," said Storch, who was the only freshman legislator selected for the House Redistricting Committee. "I don't think the leadership supports the concept, but they may. In fairness, I have not had the conversation with (Majority Leader Brent Boggs, D-Braxton) or (Majority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion.)
"But I think single-delegate districts allows constituents to be represented by a representative that is closer to them," she continued. "The representative is usually closer to the 18,500 they represent."
Ferns said Ohio County residents who find themselves voting for delegates representing the 2nd District in the House of Delegates are the ones most vocal about changing district lines.
"The concern I hear most often is from those who reside in parts of Elm Grove, West Liberty and other areas that either consider themselves part of the Wheeling community - or in the case of Elm Grove - are actually within city limits, but still have to vote on delegates from Brooke County," he said. "It's confusing and frankly does not make good common sense.
"I'm told the first goal for redistricting of House districts is to maintain county lines as much as possible. With the current lines for House District 3, I do not think that was taken into consideration."
Ferns thinks the House will consider the topic of single-member districts.
The information the delegates gather Wednesday will be shared when they return to Charleston for interim sessions taking place in Charleston June 13-15.
The state Senate Committee on Redistricting held a public information hearing in Wheeling last month on the issue and is meeting in communities around the state to gather citizen comment.
But that isn't likely to happen with the House Redistricting Committee, Storch noted. House Speaker Richard Thompson, D-Wayne, has said the House will instead rely on the individual delegates to bring back information from their respective districts.
"I think it is fine that the House is doing things a little differently than the Senate," she said. "The speaker has said there will be an 800 number for West Virginia residents to call and voice their concerns and thoughts. That might be more productive and easier than the public hearing format."
Ferns said as the House Redistricting Committee was not formed until late May, he doesn't think there is sufficient time for members to hold public hearings around the state as the Senate did.
"Had the committee been formed sooner, I believe the House may have also been able to hold hearings or coordinate with the Senate to hold joint hearings," he said. "I appreciated the Senate's openness with their hearings and the effort they put forth to include all House members as well as share information with us that they gathered."