Census numbers could mean more representation for Eastern Panhandle

March 23, 2011|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD |

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — Census 2010 figures released Wednesday appear to validate predicted gains in representation in the State Legislature, but whether that translates into added clout remains to be seen.

"It all depends on who we send down there," said Del. John Doyle, D-Jefferson.

After state lawmakers' districts are redrawn later this year, Doyle expects two additional seats to be created among the three Eastern Panhandle counties and neighboring Hampshire County.

Based on the 2010 Census' statewide population of 1,852,994, the "ideal" number of residents for each senator is 54,500 or 109,000 in each district, and 18,530 for each of the 100 delegates in the House.

Lawmakers have the flexibility to redraw districts that exceed or fall short of the ideal number by 5 percent or fall below by 5 percent, Doyle said.

Jefferson County's 2010 population of 53,498 falls short of the ideal total to justify having three House districts drawn entirely within the county's boundary, but still falls within the 5 percent margin, according to Doyle.

The 56th House district straddles Jefferson and Berkeley County and is currently represented by Martinsburg businessman Eric Householder, R-Berkeley.

The worst-case scenario would be the creation of a new 56th district that is overwhelmingly populated by Jefferson County residents with a small portion of Berkeley County, but Doyle doubted that would happen.

In Berkeley County, Doyle said five House districts could, in theory, be over-populated to the 5 percent maximum, but another nearly 7,000 county residents would still have to be included in a district that is split with Morgan County.

In the state Senate, Berkeley County stands to gain an additional senator because the current 16th Senatorial District represented by Senate Majority Leader John Unger and Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley, is about 40,000 people higher than the ideal number with 149,067 residents.

"Herb and I represent more people than any other state senator," said Unger, who released the figures.

The new 15th Senatorial District, which currently is comprised of nine counties, is expected to substantially reduced in size, based on the new census data, Doyle said.

Among the first to receive the census data as part of the Legislative leadership, Unger was tapped by Acting Senate President Jeff Kessler to lead the Senate's redistricting committee, which will be using the population numbers to redraw the lines for the chamber's 17 senatorial districts.

Kessler said Wednesday he believes Unger will be fair in handling the process, but still expected some members to be unhappy with an outcome.

Unger said the Senate would be holding meetings throughout the state to gather input from communities about "what worked and didn't work" before the new districts are finalized. Unger said he expected a special session for redistricting to be held in August or September.

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