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Brent Benjamin: Redistricting plan 'constitutionally unacceptable'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- State Supreme Court Justice Brent Benjamin derided the high court's refusal last year to overturn the Legislature's controversial delegate redistricting plan.

In a six-page dissenting opinion released late Friday afternoon, Benjamin said that the current district lines "create a strange mix of multi-member and single-member districts" and deprive some counties of a home representative.

"In my view," Benjamin wrote, "this mix of single and multi-member districts is constitutionally unacceptable."

Last summer, lawmakers approved a redistricting plan that called for 47 single member delegate districts and 20 multi-member districts, which sparked several constitutional challenges.

Mason County, for example, is split between the 13th and the 14th Delegate Districts, which it shares with Putnam and Jackson counties. Troy Andes and Brian Savilla, both Republicans, and Brady Paxton and Helen Martin, both Democrats, all live in Putnam County, the most populous of the three counties.

Benjamin also wrote that, "we are dealing with a redistricting plan that gives much greater voting power to citizens of certain counties, while giving little or no voting power to others."

During oral arguments last November, the justices considered three challenges to the House of Delegates plan: one from the Putnam and Mason County commissioners, one from Monroe County commissioners and one from South Charleston lawyer Thornton Cooper, who has called for the establishment of an independent redistricting commission.

Mason County has not had its own representative since 1992.

All of the challenges echoed sentiments that each delegate district should have one member, and that member should reside within the county he or she represents.

The state Supreme Court found in their 4-1 decision that the House plan did not violate any provisions of the West Virginia Constitution, including the clause that guarantees equal representation.

"When a person is not adequately represented in the government, his vote in electing the officials who represent him or her counts for less," Benjamin wrote in Friday's opinion. "In other words, the person's vote is diluted. The concept of a representative democracy is degraded."


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