Dave Mistich Published

Looking Ahead To Redistricting: How W.Va.’s Loss Of A Congressional Seat Might Affect What’s Next

The U.S. Capitol.

Officials with the U.S. Census Bureau announced preliminary data this week that shows congressional reapportionment for the next decade — including West Virginia losing a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

As federal officials reported Monday, West Virginia lost 3.2 percent of its population since the 2010 Census — the highest rate of population loss in the entire nation. With the state moving from three seats in the U.S. House to two, its likely two Republican incumbents will be pitted against one another in a 2022 primary.

Reps. David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller — who currently hold seats in the state’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd Congressional Districts, respectively — have all said they plan to seek reelection.

However, with census results being delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, West Virginia lawmakers will have to wait until the fall to consider redistricting on the congressional and state levels. All three of West Virginia’s U.S. House members have said they will reevaluate their reelection bids once that occurs.

Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia’s Center on Politics, noted that many have expected the state to be split in half, horizontally, for the new congressional map.

“The suggestion in the past has been for there to essentially be kind of a northern half and a southern half,” Kondik said.

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Despite the final results of the census and new maps being months away, Kondik said West Virginians already have some idea how things might look, based on the preliminary data released this week.

“The [current] 3rd District — based on the incomplete numbers we have now — lost the most population, followed by the 1st District,” he said. “The 2nd District — which cuts across the center of the state — actually gained population. So, you’re gonna have to account for those sorts of changes.”

All of this will play a role in the political calculus for McKinley, Mooney and Miller, Kondik said.

“Presumably one of these members will be able to run without a primary. But they’re going to be running in a different district than they’re used to. And that might actually invite a primary challenge — or maybe a general election challenge,” he said.

But Kondik said — given former President Donald Trump’s dominance in West Virginia in the 2020 election, despite losing nationally — it’s improbable that Democrats can regain one of the U.S. House seats.

“West Virginia’s become so Republican at the federal level that Democrats probably can’t put up much of a fight in either of these districts — given what we’ve seen over the past several cycles in West Virginia,” he said.

With West Virginia’s two House districts expected to heavily favor Republicans in 2022, Kondik said one of the state’s current House members may opt out of running this cycle to set their sights on 2024 and the seat currently held by U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin — the lone West Virginia Democrat in federal office.

“I think the Republican Senate nomination in 2024 is a pretty valuable nomination to have because Joe Manchin only won pretty narrowly in 2018 and that should be a very competitive race in 2024 — and one that a Republican may very well be favored to win,” Kondik said.

With the 2020 Census results delayed as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and interference by the Trump administration, many expect court challenges to the drawing of new maps this cycle.

Whether those hold enough merit to further slow the process or change the course of how maps look remains to be seen, but Kondik notes that things should go smoothly in West Virginia.

“There can always be lawsuits with redistricting, although some of the most common lawsuits in redistricting are over the creation of majority-minority districts where Black residents or Hispanic residents or Asian American residents may make up a majority or a near majority of the members of the people in a district,” Kondik said.

But with West Virginia’s overwhelmingly white population, Kondik said those types of lawsuits are unlikely here.

While West Virginia’s constitution and state code imposes no deadline on the Legislature to redraw district maps, the filing period for the 2022 election cycle opens in January — putting at least some pressure on the Republican supermajorities in the House of Delegates and state Senate to give potential candidates an idea of what district they’d be running in.

Lawmakers are expected to return to Charleston in the fall for a special session on redistricting. Final census results, which will inform the new maps, are expected to be released by the end of September.