Now that the Republican Party has firm control of the West Virginia Legislature for the next two years, it will be interesting to see if it can make good on a promise it made many years ago to the state’s voters.
The House of Delegates has several multi-member districts. Locally, the 16th District has three delegates, the 17th two, the 18th one and the 19th two.
If you live in one part of this area, you may have as many as three people representing you in the House of Delegates while other people may have only two or one.
Some districts have four members, while the 51st District, which covers most of Monongalia County, has five. In the previous decade, one district in Kanawha County had seven.
While they were the minority party, Republicans criticized multimember districts for violating the spirit of the one person, one vote requirement set down by the U.S. Supreme Court. Multimember districts allowed the majority party to keep weak and compliant members in the House, and they prevented some counties from having any members at all. Republicans said they would eliminate multimember districts and replace them with single-member districts should they ever be the majority party.
The Census Bureau is to release local-level results of the 2020 census early next year so legislatures and others can redraw their district maps.
One problem for Republican legislators is an agreement the two parties have had to draw new district lines to protect incumbent members. The GOP will have lots of members to protect, so it will be interesting to see how the new district boundaries are set.
Of course, one party’s redistricting is the other party’s gerrymandering. One is just and equitable; the other is nothing but pure power politics meant to secure an advantage until the next census.
The process could decide the makeup of the House for a decade.
For purposes of equal representation, single-member districts make the most sense. They might not politically, and we may have some multimember districts after redistricting, but the House should take care to provide as many single-member districts as possible.
Meanwhile, because West Virginia’s population has been stagnant while other states have seen increases, it’s likely the state will lose one of its three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives beginning with the 2022 election.
All three of the state’s representatives are Republicans, so voters will have to see if one volunteers to retire in 2022 or which of two of the three legislators decide to put against each other in the primary.