The 2020 Census will show another population decline in West Virginia and that will have a significant impact on our state. An analysis by Election Data Services of preliminary Census numbers from all states shows the drop in population here will lead to the loss of one of the state’s three congressional seats.
West Virginia will not be alone. Alabama, California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island are also expected to lose one seat each. Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Oregon and Texas will gain seats.
Every ten years, Census data are used to determine apportionment of the 435 members of the House of Representatives. The number of members of Congress stays the same so boundary lines are redrawn to reflect an even distribution based on population.
West Virginia’s population declined by 12,000 residents over the last year, which brings the state’s total population down to about 1.78 million. The state’s population peaked in the middle of the last century with approximately two-million residents.
Back then, West Virginia had six congressional districts. As the population has dropped here, while increasing elsewhere, the number of representatives in the state has declined—down to five after the 1960 Census, then four ten years later and then three following the 1990 Census.
The loss of a representative will be felt in several ways.
The state will lose an Electoral College vote, since each state’s votes are equal to the total number of senators and representatives. With four, West Virginia’s Electoral College votes will make up less than 1 percent of the total number of votes (538).
Also, West Virginia will have fewer representatives to handle constituent needs. While most of the media attention is on major national or state issues, congressional offices are kept busy in their roles as ombudsmen between individuals and their government.
Congressional staff handle tons of veterans and Social Security issues, as well as complaints about everything and anything that has to do with a federal agency, and sometimes issues that have nothing to do with Washington.
In 1960, the state had one elected federal representative—counting senators and congressmen—for every 250,000 residents. By 2022, there will be one representative for every 445,000 people. That could make it even harder for the elected members’ office staffs to keep up with the demand.
Meanwhile, the redistricting may also create a potential political showdown in West Virginia. Currently, all three representatives are Republicans. If each wins re-election this year, there will be one more incumbent than seat available in 2022, setting off a game of political musical chairs.