Senate Bill 7 and House Bill 2124, introduced Wednesday when the Legislature reconvened, would require, beginning in 2018, in districts having two or more delegates to be divided into numbered divisions corresponding to the number of delegates.
Delegates would be elected at large from the entire county, but the votes cast in each division will be separately tallied from the votes cast for candidates in the other numbered divisions and the candidate receiving the highest number of the votes cast in the division shall be nominated or elected, according to the bills.
Twenty districts in West Virginia are multi-delegates districts.
The change won’t solve problems with multi-member districts, according to Dolph Santorine with the Committee for Better Government. Santorine is a long-time advocate for single-member districts. The least of those problems “is who represents you?” he said. “Is it the person who you can get a hold of?”
That question doesn’t exist in a single-member district, Santorine said.
“There’s no question who represents you,” Santorine said.
Also, it’s simpler for the voter to go into a voting booth and decide between two candidates opposing each other rather than having to vote for two or more, he said. Candidates in multi-member districts run against each other regardless of party affiliation.
Ultimately, and quietly, someone will behind the scenes run a campaign encouraging voters to “single shot,” them, meaning cast only one for them and none for anyone else, Santorine said. The impact of the single-shot is multiplied for the person receiving the vote, he said.
“Think about it,” Santorine said.
The district with the most delegates is the 51st District in Monongalia County where there are five. The others are the 35th in Kanawha County and the 48th in Harrison County with four, the 10th in Wood County, the 16th in Cabell County, the 27th in Mercer County, the 32nd in Fayette County, the 36th in Kanawha County and the 50th in Marion County with three, and the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 13th, 17th, 19th, 22nd, 24nd, 28th, 42nd and 43rd with two.
The legislation was introduced in the Senate by Sens. Charles Trump, R-15th, Craig Blair, R-15th, Patricia Rucker, R-16th, Robert L. Karnes, R-11th, and Dave Sypolt, R-14th, and in the House by Delegates John Overington, R-62nd, John Shott, R-27th, Kenneth Hicks, D-19th, and Eric Nelson, R-35th. The legislation was referred to the Judiciary Committees in both chambers.
No one has been complaining about the way delegates are elected, said Jane Burdette, outgoing chairman of the Wood County Democratic Party.
“I feel right now the way the election is handled is fine,” she said.
Rob Cornelius, chairman of the Wood County Republican Party, has a different opinion.
“The State GOP platform has long sought 100 single member districts to meet the letter and spirit of the law,” Cornelius said. “Election of multi-member districts by division is a step toward that goal and would give voters a better opportunity to see the contrasts between specific Republicans and their individual liberal opponents.”
Cornelius said he would support the legislation with the caveat that after the 2020 Census, “a true redistricting must occur”eliminating all multi-member districts “and returns us to the Constitutional principle of one person as one vote.”
Republicans control the Senate and the House of Delegates.
“Illegal and improper multi-member districts were a key tool that the Democrat Party used for decades to maintain power from southern West Virginia,” Cornelius said. “We intend to dismantle those shameful gerrymanders and will succeed in rebuilding this state with new leadership in Charleston.”