Activist calls for reform in redistricting process based on census data

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CHARLES TOWN, W. Va. (WDVM) — The tedious process of redrawing new lines based on the ten-year census for congressional and state legislative districts is well underway. But some champions of reform want fairness in the process.

West Virginia state legislators have held 8 of 12 public hearings across the state for input on how to draw the new lines. But one Mountain State advocate for reform says there is just too much politics in the process and that unfairly disenfranchises voters.

“The states that are most at risk for this are states that are controlled by one party,” says Erin Lehman, election reform advocate. “So that includes West Virginia. If you’re a Democrat in West Virginia you might be a little bit nervous about redistricting but also if you’re a Republican in Massachusetts.”

West Virginia has the dubious distinction of more people moving out of state than moving in. More people dying than being born. That, says Lehman, means less clout at the bargaining table in the Nation’s Capital when it comes to delivering for her home state.

“On the federal level West Virginia is actually losing representation, this time because of our population loss,” Lehman explains. “This, in turn, means that what is happening in other states will affect us more because we have less representation at the table. We have one less voice.”

Lehman points to public polling which shows citizens want the new district lines to give every West Virginian a voice in both Congress and under the dome in Charleston.

“Polling shows 93% of West Virginians oppose gerrymandering,” Lehman explains. “That’s across Democrats, Republicans, and independents.”

That’s why Lehman is working with a grassroots citizens coalition, RepresentUs, to have an impact on the process.

“The voices of the people are being ignored,” Lehman exclaims. “They’re being drowned out by large corporate donors, special interest groups, and politicians protecting their own power.”

Lehman wants the new district lines to reflect equality and balance, to be compact, and to respect county jurisdictions.

The public hearings will continue across the state until mid-September. Only eight of West Virginia’s 55 counties have experienced population growth in the past 10 years. Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan are among that group.

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