7:00am: West Virginia Outdoors with Chris Lawrence

The Politics of Boundaries

The 2022 election in West Virginia will be about campaigns, fund raising, political ads, debates, and policy disagreements.

But now, the election is about boundaries, as in the lines that separate the political districts within our state.

Every ten years, each state uses new Census data to reapportion congressional and legislative districts based on population.

West Virginia’s process is underway.  The House of Delegates and the Senate have appointed bipartisan committees—24 members from the House and 9 members from the Senate—to do the work.

Lawmakers are expected to hold a series of public hearings across the state.  Citizens will have an opportunity to give their input on anything associated with redistricting, such as which communities should be included in a district or divided into separate districts.

By late August, the Census should have delivered to the state preliminary population figures broken down into Census blocks.  These are the smallest population units.  West Virginia had over 135,000 Census blocks in the 2010 Census.

The final numbers will not arrive until late September.

Once those figures are available and the public comments have been taken, staff members in the House and Senate will begin drawing their respective districts. The staffers will use specialized mapping software called Maptitude.

The company says its software allows users to “visualize data in new and different ways, unearth geographic patterns hidden in your data, and convey that information in a straightforward manner.”

The Senate mapping may be just simple tweaking. The House redistricting will be more complicated since it is moving to all single-member districts, increasing the number of districts from 67 to 100.  The process could be particularly contentious in Monongalia and Kanawha Counties where multi-member districts will be split, likely pitting incumbents against each other in the next election.

Meanwhile, a joint legislative redistricting committee will redraw the congressional boundaries. West Virginia is losing a representative because of population decline so the state will be bifurcated.  That will produce a head-to-head primary election battle in 2022 if all three Republican incumbent members of Congress run for re-election.

Lawmakers will gather in special session later this year to consider, potentially change, and ultimately approve the new boundaries. They are facing a tight deadline.

The 2022 election is on November 8.  The state Constitution requires that a Delegate or Senator live in the district they serve for at least one year before elected to the seat.  So, the legislature wants to finish redistricting before this November in case an individual needs to relocate to be eligible to serve.

Marking lines on a map of our state is not very compelling political news.  But how and where those boundaries are drawn will ultimately have a significant impact on the political makeup of our state.

 





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