The West Virginia House of Delegates passed a bill that would create 100 single-member legislative districts following the 2020 U.S. Census. In an hour long debate on the House floor, Republican delegates argued that the bill creates equity and a closer relationship between lawmakers and their constituents. Democrats, however, gave a wide variety of opposing arguments.
Democratic Del. Barbara Fleischauer kicked off discussion by saying the bill may conflict with the state’s constitution.
“Those two provisions spell out how we are supposed to do redistricting or reapportionment. What the 100 member single-member district doesn't do is -- it doesn't take into account and it does not even mention, anywhere, counties,” Fleischauer said. “And one of the things that when our drafters did this, they set up a specific system -- a method -- for doing apportionment.”
Fleischauer also argued that single-member districts would make it more difficult to elect women and minorities, saying that multi-member districts allow for more diverse representation.
Many Republicans argued that single-member districts allow for more fair representation of constituents.
“I would challenge the idea that we're living up to the spirit of that constitutional principle of ‘one man, one vote’ with multi-member districts. And I don't think that we are living up to the spirit of that and that constitutional principle, currently,” Del. Riley Moore said. “It's certainly arguable that single member-districts being more equitable -- more fair -- in terms of representation and also more fair to the constituents that are served by a single member as opposed to a multi-member district.”
While some Democrats argued the bill prioritizes election of members over other issues facing the state, others called for ways to ensure a fair redistricting process.
Del. Mike Pushkin proposed an amendment in the House Judiciary Committee last week that called for an independent commission on redistricting. That amendment failed, but has brought attention to another bill -- HB 2383, which calls for a joint committee of the Legislature to study and propose a fair plan for the redistricting process. That measure was referred to a subcommittee.
Pushkin said he would support single member districts, but wants to make an effort to keep gerrymandering and discrimination out of the redistricting process..
“I think if that's truly what we're what our intentions are -- is good government, accessibility, practicality -- then I think we're putting the cart before the horse on this. What's more important to me than how many districts we have is who is drawing the districts.” Pushkin said.
Del. Kelli Sobonya, a Republican who comes from a single-member district herself, argued that giving constituents multiple votes from multiple members creates an imbalance of power and gives some citizens more say than others.
“So how in the world can we, with a straight face, say that -- in Cabell County -- some people only deserve one voice at the Legislature, some people deserve two voices at the Legislature and some people deserve three voices at the Legislature. And if you're in a four-member district, they deserve four voices at the Legislature. It's a disparity that the Legislature has created,” Sobonya said.
Del. Brent Boggs also voted in favor of the bill. However, he did call for an independent commission, as Pushkin described. He cited his own experience leading the last legislative redistricting committee.
“I believe I'm probably the only person in this body that has chaired a redistricting committee. I will tell you if you want to make everybody mad, that's the best way to do it,” Boggs said. “Trust me -- it doesn't matter if they're a Democrat, Republican, Independent, whatever -- you're going to make somebody mad whether they're in your party or not.”
House Bill 4002 passed on a 72-25 vote and now heads to the Senate. The fate of House Bill 2383 remains in question, though, as an independent, non-legislative commission has yet to make its way into the bill and it’s uncertain if it will make it to the floor.