The West Virginia Legislature this week will likely complete the protracted effort to create single-member districts for all 100 seats in the state House of Delegates.
This has been a long time coming.
For decades, West Virginia has been an outlier among states by having multi-member districts. Over the years, the number of delegates from a particular district has ranged from one or two up to double figures.
At one time, Delegate District 17 in Kanawha County had 13 delegates!
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, “West Virginia is currently one of only ten states that utilize multi-member districts in its state legislature, and one of only two, along with New Hampshire, that has multimember districts which elect three or more members.”
Finally in 2018, the state Legislature passed House Bill 4002 to break up the state’s remaining 20 multi-member districts. Using the new Census data, lawmakers are now redrawing those boundaries to adhere to the law.
One hundred districts for 100 delegates.
This move, along with complying with state law, makes for better government for several reasons:
First, the single-member districts are smaller, putting the elected representative closer to the people. Multi-member districts confuse voters as to who represents them.
Second, the smaller districts will encourage more candidates to run. Multi-member districts, which tend to be in the state’s urban areas, often require more expensive campaigns.
Third, single-member districts simplify campaigns. Barring a third party candidate, two candidates will square off against each other in the General Election. That allows voters to easily compare the candidates.
Fourth, multi-member districts turn into a cattle call at election time. How are voters supposed to be informed about six, eight or ten different candidates in one race?
Fifth, the multi-member districts allow candidates to “hide” at election time. A candidate with just a little more name recognition has an advantage when voters have a long list to choose from.
West Virginia has made significant improvements in its elections over the years—there is no more widespread voter fraud, judges are now elected on a non-partisan basis, straight ticket voting has been eliminated—and now multi-member House districts are disappearing.
Starting in the 2022 election, voters in every part of the state will have a clearer choice in their House of Delegates race, while the candidates will find it easier to make direct contact with the voters, and ultimately their constituents.