Blog Posts > Single Member House Districts Put Population Shifts in the Spotlight
July 14, 2020

Single Member House Districts Put Population Shifts in the Spotlight

This post is authored by Ryan Brij Stewart, the WVCBP’s 2020 Summer Research Associate with the Shepherd Higher Education Consortium in Poverty. He studies Government and Philosophy at Hamilton College.

Every 10 years after the decennial census, West Virginia, like every state, redraws its electoral districts in a process known as redistricting. While this process will take place once again after the upcoming census, 2020 redistricting will look a bit different in West Virginia.

West Virginia is one of the few states with multi-member districts for its state legislature. However, with the passage of House Bill 4002 in 2018, West Virginia will no longer have multi-member districts in the House of Delegates. This means that the current 67 House districts will increase to 100.

Redistricting for the House of Delegates will also be impacted by population shifts over the past 10 years. In 1964, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Reynolds v. Sims that state electoral districts must all contain approximately the same number of people, establishing what would become known as “one person, one vote.” As such, population shifts over the past decade will result in some areas of West Virginia obtaining more political representation in the House of Delegates while other regions lose seats.

By looking at the Census Bureau’s population estimates from 2010 to 2018, we can attempt to predict the population of West Virginia’s counties in 2020. We can then estimate the number of districts each county in West Virginia will receive.

Overall, West Virginia’s population is shrinking, making it one of only three states plus Puerto Rico to see population declines over the past decade. The few counties that are experiencing population growth are concentrated in the state’s urban areas. Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan counties in the eastern panhandle all grew over the past 10 years. While the three counties collectively held around 9.5 seats according to the current 2010 era maps, it appears that with their increased 2020 population, the three counties will together hold 11 seats in the 2020s, gaining 1.5 seats.

Similarly, over the past decade, the population of Monongalia County has increased notably. Monongalia currently holds just over five seats, sharing a portion of one from Wetzel County. But taking recent population growth into account, Monongalia County should gain almost one full seat and end up with at least six seats within its borders.

Yet, while parts of West Virginia have increased in population over the past decade, most others have declined. By the end of 2020, southern West Virginia will have seen particularly significant population losses. Kanawha County, home of the State Capitol, will have lost almost 16,000 people since 2010. While the county currently holds 10.5 seats, with population shifts it will likely be left with less than 10 seats.

West Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, comprised largely of the state’s southern coalfields, will have lost more than eight percent of its total population between 2010 and 2020. This will likely cause the district to lose almost two seats in the House of Delegates, going from over 33 seats to just over 31.

The population shift in West Virginia from rural counties to more urban ones has been largely a result of our state’s changing economy and job opportunities. To be clear, these population changes will not create seismic shifts in the distribution of seats throughout the state immediately. However, put in the context of single member districts, we can say that the areas in our state that are seeing population growth will correspondingly see their influence grow in the House of Delegates while the southern part of the state will likely see less representation.

Later this month, we will follow up on this piece with a post on best practices to ensure transparency and accountability in the redistricting process.

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