Delegates discuss House redistricting

Charleston Gazette (WV) - Wednesday, July 20, 2011
Author: Lawrence Messina The Associated Press

West Virginia's House of Delegates collected draft redistricting maps from its members Tuesday as they continue to debate the merits of single- and multi-seat districts. 

Monongalia County offers the latest example of a multi-member district in which majority Democratic delegates oppose carving up the district into single seats. 

Delegate Barbara Evans Fleischauer noted Tuesday that the county gained enough population in the 2010 U.S. Census for her 44th District to increase from four seats to five. All but one of its delegates now is a Democrat. She said the prevailing draft map for the region would keep all five seats within one district, while reclaiming a part of Monongalia County from the Marion County-dominated 43rd District. 

Fleischauer said she has routinely heard complaints from residents of those orphaned precincts about being separated from the rest of the county. She believes most people in her district prefer the multi-member approach. 

"They have more than one person to go to if they have a problem,'' she said. "I've never, ever heard of [being a multi-seat district] as a complaint. There hasn't been any dissatisfaction.'' 

House Republicans are among those advocating single-member districts for all 100 of the chamber's seats. Supporters of this approach say it improves representation, partly by making a delegate more likely to live among constituents. They also cite a national trend away from multi-member legislative districts. 

Fleischauer said she has based her stance on the state constitution's emphasis on keeping counties intact. She noted how the region's draft map provides Monongalia County precincts to Tyler and Wetzel counties to ensure that each remains the majority in a single-seat district. 

"Counties are a unifying principle, or at least a starting point,'' Fleischauer said. "I think if you had 100 single-member districts, I don't think you would be able to satisfy the county requirement.'' 

Democrats in Kanawha County's seven-seat 30th District have said they've leaned against dividing into single-seat districts in their drafts. Fleischauer said her region's proposal would similarly keep Marion County's three-seat 43rd District and the four-seat 41st District dominated by Harrison County intact, as well. 

The last round of redistricting resulted in 36 single-seat districts, 11 with two delegates each and 11 with three or more. 

Population changes reflected in the 2010 Census require all states to revisit their legislative and constitutional boundaries. Fleischauer is part of a 30-delegate committee overseeing the House's approach to redistricting. A Senate task force, featuring 17 of its 34 members, is heading that chamber's efforts. Each chamber is also drafting plans for the state's three U.S. House of Representatives seats, in addition to its own districts. 

Lawmakers expect to finish redistricting during a special session that would coincide with the Legislature's Aug. 1-3 interim study meetings.