Several voting precincts likely to change in Upshur County due to state redistricting

Editor’s Note: See a larger map at the bottom of this story.

BUCKHANNON – Ahead of the May 2022 Primary Election, the Upshur County Commission on Wednesday began planning changes to magisterial districts and voting precinct lines in Upshur County.

Following the completion of the 2020 U.S. Census and the West Virginia Legislature’s 2021 redistricting process, political boundaries will change on the local, state and national levels — especially on the House of Delegates side.

There are currently 67 House of Delegates districts in the Mountain State, but the state legislature recently increased to 100 single-member districts. Upshur County is part of three House districts, and the way the lines are drawn means changes must be made at the local level to some of the county’s 21 voting precincts and three magisterial districts.

The Upshur County Commission convened a special informational meeting Nov. 17 to discuss the changes, the new House of Delegate lines and how they will impact the voting precinct boundaries in Upshur County.

Upshur County Clerk Carol Smith explained that each voting precinct must be entirely within one House of Delegates district. In addition, House of Delegates districts cannot fall within more than one of the three magisterial districts. In two instances, because the new House of Delegates lines cross a magisterial line, magisterial lines must be moved.

“There is an area at the bottom of Precinct 16 that will have to be moved from the First [Magisterial] District to the Third Magisterial District because the new House of Delegates line separated it,” Smith said. “You’re going to take something out of the First Magisterial District and put it into the third, and that’s not a very big population, but it’s something that has to be done.”

There is also one small section of voting Precinct 47, located in the Second Magisterial District, that will also be added to the Third Magisterial District. These were the only instances of issues with the magisterial lines, but out of Upshur County’s 21 voting precincts, 14 were affected by the changes made to House of Delegates districts during the 2021 redistricting process.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Joe Waple with Atlas Geographic Data said the commission needs to consider the population of each voting district when they make changes.

“The thing to be considered while you’re doing this process of redistributing is where that population density is, because you’re trying to get roughly equal access to the polling places,” Waple said. “The population data comes from the 2020 Census – that’s why all this stuff is done once every 10 years. There is no Census data for registered voters, but there is a statistic for total population over 18, so that is the data we will be using.”

Commissioner Sam Nolte, commission president Kristie Tenney and commissioner Terry Cutright learn about how the new House of Delegates district lines impact the county’s magisterial districts and voting precincts. / Photo by Monica Zalaznik

The commission must also make sure travel time to polling places is not unmanageable.

“You might be only affecting 10 voters, but you might be changing where they have to vote by travel time, so you guys also have to consider travel time to polling places,” Waple said.

Smith started to list all the current precincts that have been split by the new House of Delegate lines.

“We have an area of problems with Precinct 6, a new House (of Delegates) line goes through six and it splits it,” Smith said. “Fortunately, the voting location for Precinct 6 remains in Precinct 6, so we don’t have to worry about finding a new voting location. My thought would be to take a look at moving some of these people to Precinct 4 and moving some others to 25.”

Precinct 27 had a similar issue, and Smith recommended moving two parts of 27 to Precinct 25, part of Precinct 19 to Precinct 27, and small part of Precinct 20 to Precinct 27.

“Precinct 33 has a lot of issues, and it makes sense to take a portion of 33 and move it to 37, but if you look at the number of voters in this area, there are a lot of people,” Smith said. “In this case, it’s OK because this polling location has multiple precincts and you can have up to 1,500 voters, but the question is how close to that number do you want to go?”

Smith recommended merging Precinct 33 with Precincts 37 and 35, reducing Upshur county’s total number of precincts to 20.

“The biggest problem is the polling location in Precinct 33. It is in the area that would transfer to 37, the Excelsior Community Building, so what we could do is merge part of 33 with 37 and the other part with 35 and eliminate a precinct,” Smith said.

Smith recognized this may not be a popular decision in Precinct 33, located in the northeastern section of the county.

“I am going to tell you, we have to do what we have to do because that’s our job, but you will have some really upset people because they have fought really hard to keep the (Excelsior) Community Building,” Smith said. “We wanted to move the polling location to Union Elementary School a long time ago, because that community building does not have running water, no restroom, no heat, no air conditioning, and in June when we had the 2020 election, it was 100 degrees and our poll workers were melting.”

The last precinct that would need to be changed is Precinct 38.

“If you look at Precinct 38, we have a real problem,” Smith said. “This is going to have to be a precinct by itself, because it’s in a different delegate district and magisterial district than 18, so they can’t merge. What we could do is take a portion of 38 and give it to 39 and take this lower part of 39 and give it to 38.”

Smith said Wednesday’s meeting was purely informational, and no action would be taken. None of the changes would take effect until the election in May 2022, and the upcoming bond levy election in January will operate with the current voting precincts.

“The commissioners cannot make any decisions without all three of them being together and it has to be a formal meeting,” Smith said. “Final decisions are made public through publication and a public hearing.”

The plans discussed during the informational meeting were not voted on and not finalized, so changes may occur. The timeline was scheduled to be voted on during the commission’s regular Thursday, Nov. 18 meeting, Smith said.

On the national level, due to a 3.2 percent decrease in population over the past 10 years, the Mountain State is losing one of its three districts in the U.S. House of Representatives, according to an article in the Charleston Gazette-Mail in April.

Image courtesy Upshur County Clerk Carol Smith

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