Report: Population Decline Could Lead W.Va. To Lose Congressional Seat After 2020
WHEELING — Two West Virginia political insiders — one Republican and one Democrat — aren’t surprised by a recent report showing a continued decline in West Virginia’s population is threatening one of the state’s three congressional seats.
Election Data Services says the drop in the state’s population supports longtime speculation that West Virginia will lose a congressional seat by 2022, after the 2020 census. For West Virginia to keep its third seat, it would need to attract about 19,500 new residents before the 2020 census, assuming the population in all other states remains steady.
West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas is stepping down from his post at the end of this year to focus on a run for West Virginia’s 3rd District congressional seat in 2018.
“We all know the loss of a congressional seat is directly related to population loss,” Lucas said. “After over 80 years of Democrat control, people have had to leave to find work elsewhere. We are seeing the fallout now. Hopefully with Republicans in charge, we will reverse the trend and the future drawing of political maps.”
Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, said it’s widely expected West Virginia will lose a seat after the 2020 census.
“It is a result of spending decades focusing more on what we can extract, rather than who we can attract,” he said. “As a result, young people continue to leave in droves. This won’t change unless those in Charleston have the political courage to focus on issues that drive people to our state instead of doubling down on our past.”
U.S. Census Bureau data released last week show the state’s population is continuing to decline. Census data show the state’s estimated population as of July 1 is 1,815,857, down 12,780 from the same time a year ago. It’s the fifth-straight drop in West Virginia’s annual population estimate.
The loss of a seat, if it occurs, is likely to have some impact as incumbents decide their political future, according to Kimball Brace, president of EDS.
“What that congressman is likely to see is that his house is going to be put into one of those two (remaining) districts,” Brace told the Charleston Gazette-Mail. “So then the question he would have is, ‘Do I run against the other guy?’ ‘Do I retire?'”
But Brace said reversing the trend is unlikely.
“West Virginia has kind of been on the bubble for a while, so the issue is, is there any potential chance of them gaining that seat back? I’m not certain that would be the case,” he said. “Basically, everything is pointing toward what would appear to be less growth in West Virginia than elsewhere, therefore moving further and further away from that magic 435 mark.”
There are 435 voting members in the House of Representatives.
EDS projects that West Virginia and other states like Alabama, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island all have seats that could be under threat by 2022. The lost seats would be reapportioned to Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon and Texas, which are all growing, according to census data.