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After a long wait, the Census Bureau has released local-level results of its population count last year. Now the (political) fun begins.

We knew from an earlier release that the state had dropped below 1.8 million in total population and would lose one of its three seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. We expected population gains in the Eastern Panhandle and Monongalia County, and we expected losses in the southern coal counties. Those expectations became reality when county numbers were released Thursday.

Only eight counties showed population increases from 2010 to 2020. The big increases were in Berkeley County, which gained 17,907 residents, or 17.2%, and Monongalia County, which gained 9,633 inhabitants, or 10%. That means the other 47 counties lost population. It was particularly bad in Pendleton County, whose number decreased 20%. Thirteen other counties saw losses of 10% or more. Those included Mingo County at 12.2% and Boone and Logan counties at 11.4% each.

In the political realm, these numbers mean membership in the House of Delegates will move north, and it means changes should the House keep to its plan to have 100 single-member districts starting in the 2022 election.

The state’s total population in the census was 1,793,716. Divided by 100, that means each district should have about 17,937 people. Kanawha County could lose one House seat, as it lost 12,318 residents, and Berkeley County should pick up one. It all depends on how district lines are drawn.

Also consider there were 21 counties whose population fell short of the 17,937 benchmark, so some of them could end up without a resident in the House.

That is all for legislators to consider in their deliberations and deal-making, which undoubtedly has already begun.

On the city level, Huntington and Charleston should get two or three seats, as the census counted their populations as 46,842 and 48,864, respectively.

Morgantown’s population increased to 30,347, so it should have at least one seat and possibly two, again depending on how lines are drawn. It would be difficult to imagine all three cities having only two seats exclusively, but gerrymandering happens.

Nationally, West Virginia’s influence is waning as other areas grow in population and in economic power. The one thing keeping the state relevant is having two of the 100 members of the U.S. Senate.

Within the state, political power is shifting northward. Thus, it is imperative for the counties along and south of Interstate 64 to be wise in choosing whom they send to the Legislature. Good legislators are hard to find, and accumulating power in the Capitol takes time. This generation of legislators and the next will have to outperform the previous ones if southern counties are to remain relevant in their own state. They can’t rely on sheer numbers to get things done.

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