Lawmakers nearing end of redistricting hearings

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State lawmakers are nearing the end of the public hearing portion of the redistricting process with a final in-person hearing scheduled for next Thursday.

The West Virginia Legislature’s Joint Committee on Redistricting has held multiple hearings since late July; 40 people attended the 11th such hearing Thursday at the Culture Center in Charleston, in which attendees raised concerns about multiple issues, including single-member districts and transparency.

Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan (File)

“Everywhere we’ve gone, we’ve heard things that are sort of specific to that particular area,” said Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, who is leading the committee alongside Mineral County Delegate Gary Howell.

“It was really enlightening or interesting to me because, you know, I live in one area, and as much as legislators like to act like they know everything, we don’t. You don’t know what people in a particular area think about their districts until you go there and ask them.”

Lawmakers are responsible for drawing new districts for the West Virginia Legislature and U.S. House of Representatives every decade in light of population changes. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, West Virginia’s population declined by 59,278 people from 2010 to 2020. West Virginia is additionally one of three states with a smaller population from 2010, and the state will lose one of its three seats in the House of Representatives because of the population change

The listening sessions began ahead of the U.S. Census Bureau’s Aug. 12 release of 2020 census data.

Speakers across events have voiced support for eliminating multi-member districts. There are 100 members of the House of Delegates representing 67 districts. Attendees have said a move to smaller single-member districts would allow lawmakers to better address local issues.

“Having lived in Clarksburg for pretty much my entire life except for my military service, I am very familiar with the problems of Clarksburg. I know where the potholes are. I know whose dog barks too loud,” former Clarksburg Mayor Ryan Kennedy said during an Aug. 12 hearing.

“Ask me that question about Salem or Lost Creek or Wallace or Johnstown or any of the other fine communities we have in Harrison County, and I have to go ask somebody that lives there because I don’t know. I don’t live there. Our delegates should live among us. And by doing this, they will have fewer constituents and less mileage to cover, so they can truly serve the constituents that they do have.”

Multiple people spoke during Thursday’s hearing about the need for transparency. Representatives with the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia and West Virginia Citizen Action Group called on legislative leaders to ensure the redistricting process is open to the public and maps are created and approved with West Virginians watching the process.

Trump said he has encouraged senators to meet with staff about drawing maps. He added he has spoken to Senate President Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, about posting maps from legislative staff online alongside public submissions.

“To get things out there in the public domain, I think, is really important because we will get feedback,” he said. “People will say that’s a dumb map or that’s a really good map, and I think that is a really important part of this process in addition to what we have already got going, which is the public submitting their own maps that we are posting for the same reason.”

The Joint Committee on Redistricting has posted citizen comments and district proposals to the state Legislature’s website.

The committee’s last in-person hearing is next Thursday at the Judge Donald F. Black Courthouse Annex in Parkersburg. Virtual public hearings will take place from Sept. 20 to 22 with three sessions divided by current House of Representatives districts. Each hearing is scheduled from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

According to Trump, a related special session to approve new legislative maps would take place in mid-October.

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