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W.Va. Redistricting Update: Senate Delays Vote Again, As Controversy Swirls Over Map That Came Out Of ‘The Dark Of Night’

Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell.jpg
Will Price
WV Legislative Photography
Mike Woelfel, D-Cabell
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This story was originally published by Mountain State Spotlight. Get stories like this delivered to your email inbox once a week; sign up for the free newsletter at https://mountainstatespotlight.org/newsletter

As West Virginia state senators sat in their chamber Friday afternoon, after once again delaying a vote on new Senate district maps that will now be pushed until Monday, Sen. Mike Woelfel took the floor.

“There’s one map that doesn’t have a name, and I’m going to call it the poor bastardized map,” the Cabell County Democrat said. “It’s the map that came out of the dark of night a couple nights ago, really, I think in contravention of the tenor and the hope and the predictions, the aspirations of our committee and our mission.”

That map, released without any senator putting their name on it late Wednesday night, upended a smooth vote on a proposed Senate district map that had passed through the redistricting committee with bipartisan support. The new map disregards the constitutional mandate to keep counties whole, and divides Democratic-leaning cities and lumps them in with more rural areas.

Republicans met behind closed doors all week to attempt to rally behind a single map. The Senate convened on Friday morning, and again on Friday afternoon, and then postponed a redistricting final vote until Monday.

But after senators delayed the vote again on Friday afternoon, Senate leaders said they hoped a compromise had been reached. Senate Majority Leader Tom Takubo, R-Kanawha, released two new maps that he said he hopes “will cost the least amount of angst” among the disparate groups of Senators in his party.

“I never dreamed redistricting would be so tough,” Takubo said about the days-long GOP stalemate.

Like the ‘no-name” amendment map, both Takubo maps divide the Democratic-leaning cities of Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown and Martinsburg, combining parts of those cities with more conservative rural areas. However, at least one appears to divide fewer counties, a sticking point with Sen. Charles Trump, R-Morgan, chair of the Senate’s redistricting committee.

Both of Takubo’ maps also address his loudest criticism of the last-minute map by dividing Kanawha into two districts instead of three, similar to the current Senate map. He hopes his maps will appease members of his party and at least some Democrats.

Senate Minority Leader Stephen Baldwin, D-Greenbrier, took some issue with the new maps’ resemblance to the late-Wednesday-night amendment map, but he applauded Takubo for making more of an effort to “keep counties together that have historically been together, and to keep counties whole as possible.” He said those maps still split cities, but caused “less harm to … communities of interest and allows them to still stay together.”

The last few days of chaos and secrecy in the Senate’s redistricting process came after months of promises of transparency. Once the hyper-partisan map was crafted behind closed doors and introduced at the last minute, that led Ken Martis, professor emeritus of geography at West Virginia University, and a national expert on gerrymandering, to say, “I don’t know how they could honestly go to sleep and do this. I honestly mean that.”

Trump said he hopes with the new maps, senators will “continue our conversation and give the public transparency, a little bit, as to what that conversation has been.” And with a weekend before the Senate reconvenes, he also hopes the public can provide feedback to their own senators, or through the portal on the Legislature’s redistricting website.

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