House of Delegates passes single representative district proposal

CHARLESTON — A bill passed the House of Delegates calling for the establishment of 100 single representative delegate districts in West Virginia.

House Bill 4002 passed the House Monday in a 72-25 vote.

If approved and signed into law, Wood County’s 10th District would be split into three individual districts.

Delegate Frank Deem, R-10th, of Wood County was one of the bill’s co-sponsors.

Deem said he supported the bill because it clearly defined who represented an area. Being from a three-member district, it was hard for people to know who represented them in the House, Deem said.

“Single member districts best exemplify the principle of one person, one vote,” the bill states. “Single member districts provide enhanced responsiveness to constituent needs, as the fewer constituents that each delegate represents, the more time and energy a delegate has to devote to their needs.”

“Single member districts provide enhanced accountability, as it is easier for citizens to follow the actions of one delegate than to follow the actions of many,” the bill states.

Deem along with Delegates Bill Anderson, R-8th, of Wood County and Ray Hollen, R-9th, of Wirt County who represents part of Wood County as well, voted in favor of the bill. Delegate John Kelly, R-10th, of Wood County, and Delegate Vernon Criss, R-10th, of Wood County, voted against the bill.

Criss said urban districts, like the 10th District, benefit from having multiple people covering them.

“They are better represented with three sets of ears to listen to problems,” he said.

If the mayors of Parkersburg and Vienna need help dealing with state officials on a variety of issues, there are three people who can help them as opposed to one, Criss said.

If districts are broken down by neighborhoods, a delegate might only choose to concentrate on what is happening in their single district rather than address issues that could have wide implications for the cities as a whole, Criss said.

“People may not be readily available,” Criss said.

Kelly said the three-member 10th District has worked well for Wood County for many years.

“Since it has worked so well, I don’t believe we need to change it,” he said. “The people of Wood County have three votes on an issue. It gives Wood County more representation in the House.”

Currently, the House’s 100 members together represent 67 districts, and more densely populated areas have two, three, four or five delegates.

The Republican-sponsored bill would have lawmakers represent about 18,000 constituents each after the 2020 Census, evenly dividing the state’s nearly 1.8 million residents among them.

Delegate Larry Rowe, who shares a Charleston district with another Democrat and a Republican, said single-member districts “entrench incumbents,” according to the Associated Press.

He also warned that West Virginia will see a lot of gerrymandering as incumbents draw new district lines for their own political advantage, unless the Legislature establishes an independent redistricting commission or some other method of drawing fair boundaries, the AP reported. A bill to do that, introduced by Delegate John Overington, a Martinsburg Republican and the bill’s lead sponsor, remains in committee.

Rowe said the House currently has 47 districts with a single legislator; 35 of them are held by Republicans and 12 by Democrats.

The bill has been sent on to the Senate for consideration.

(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)