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Redistricting meetings planned

CHARLESTON — The final dates in a series of statewide meetings determining how the West Virginia Legislature will look after redistricting have now been set as lawmakers await population data.

The Joint Committee on Redistricting announced Monday redistricting public hearings will take place Aug. 17 at the Berkeley County Sheriff’s Office meeting room in Martinsburg and Aug. 24 at Independence Hall in Wheeling.

The joint committee announced last week 12 public meetings will take place across the state starting July 27, but the locations for the Ohio County and Berkeley County meetings had not been announced until Monday.

House Speaker Pro Tempore Gary Howell, R-Mineral, is co-chair of the Joint Committee with Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan. Howell said the goal is to have as many meetings as possible to hear from the public on how they want House and Senate districts to look for the next decade.

“The first thing we’re going to do is hold a series of meetings across the state,” Howell said. “We’ll send (lawmakers) out to hold town hall meetings all over the state and try to at least have one in each county, or two counties if they’re smaller counties, to get the input from the public.”

Other locations include Tuesday, Aug. 10, at Stonewall Resort State Park in Roanoke, Wednesday, Aug. 18, at Keyser Volunteer Fire Department Station 2, and Thursday, Sept. 16, at the Judge Donald F. Black Courthouse Annex in Parkersburg. All meetings will be held from 6-8 p.m.

The West Virginia Constitution puts the power in the hands of the Legislature to redraw congressional and legislative boundaries every 10 years. The U.S. Census Bureau provides population data to the states. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this information has been delayed, pushing back the redistricting process later than it normally would be done.

According to a press release Monday by the U.S. Census Bureau, population data for redistricting will be released Aug. 16. That data release also will include key demographic data, such as race and ethnicity, voting-age population, occupied and vacant housing units, and people living in groups, such as nursing homes, prisons, military bases, and college dorms.

“While the primary purpose of this data is for states to redraw their districts, these statistics will also tell us how many people live in each county, in each city and in each block,” said James Whitehorne, chief of the Census Bureau’s Redistricting and Voting Rights Data Office. “This information will provide a detailed demographic portrait of our nation’s population for communities all across the United States.”

The U.S. Census Bureau released the first results of the 2020 Census April 26 that showed West Virginia’s population at 1.79 million. The state will drop from three congressional districts to two.

While it remains to be seen how population numbers will affect Senate boundaries, the House of Delegates will switch from multi-member districts for counties with large cities and larger populations to single-member districts. The Legislature passed House Bill 4002 in 2018, requiring all remaining multi-member districts to change to single-member districts.

“We passed that law four or five years ago,” Howell said. “It will be all 100 single-member districts after redistricting.”

While there are 100 delegates, there are 67 House districts, with 20 of the districts including more than one delegate. There are 17 senatorial districts represented by two senators each.

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