Anticipating a solution to a problem that will not occur for nine years, if at all, may not seem to some West Virginians as if it should be a priority for state legislators. Still, they are right to address the question of legislative and congressional redistricting this summer and fall.
In reaction to population changes reflected in the U.S. Census, the state is required to adjust congressional and legislative boundaries each decade. It was done last in 2011.
Six court challenges, including one still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, were filed in protest of the Legislature’s redistricting plans. That apparently prompted lawmakers to agree the issue should be studied by an interim committee, either this summer or in early fall.
One idea legislators will consider is creation of an independent commission to propose boundaries for congressional and legislative districts in the future. Such decisions now are the responsibility of lawmakers themselves.
Given the politically charged nature of any redistricting process, there are bound to be complaints. They will come from legislators and members of Congress who feel gerrymandering has been used to hurt their re-election prospects, as well as from members of the public who fear loss of political clout.
In general, legislators did a good job with redistricting last year. For example, it appears both Democrats and Republicans agreed it would be unfair to alter the 1st and 2nd congressional districts to hurt incumbent Reps. David McKinley and Shelley Capito, both members of the GOP. Legislators heard several schemes to divert votes from one or both of them, but in the end, a redistricting plan that appears fair to all concerned was adopted.
As state Senate President Jeff Kessler, D-Marshall, has pointed out, what the Legislature does will depend on how the nation’s high court rules in the West Virginia redistricting case. State officials are unlikely to consider changes before that opinion, possibly containing a road map for the process, is released.
Still, legislators are right to be looking at the issue now, while questions and controversies still are fresh in everyone’s minds. If change is to be proposed, West Virginia residents should have plenty of time to consider it before voting, as they would have to on any proposed amendment to the state constitution.
— Distributed by The Associated Press