CHARLESTON — The West Virginia Republican Party on Friday, anticipating future litigation, provided written notice to various state offices asking that all documents related to redistricting be preserved.
The state GOP says it provided notice to the Governor’s Office, the state Legislature, the state Redistricting Office and the state Attorney General’s Office to preserve all documents related to redistricting, including those related to the U.S. House of Representatives, the state House of Delegates and the state Senate.
The three-page notice requires the preservation and retention of any information related to the redistricting process.
“The obligation to preserve applies to records of all types, whether in hard copy or electronic form, including emails, voicemail, instant messaging, letters, memoranda, notes, drawings, designs, calendars, correspondence or communications of any kind, and applies even where retention would otherwise not be required by normal State of West Virginia, West Virginia Legislature or Office of the Governor retention policies and practices,” the notice said.
Mike Stuart, chairman of the state’s GOP, says the party attempted to obtain redistricting documents through Freedom of Information Act requests, but those requests were rejected.
“The redistricting process in West Virginia was a fiasco of epic proportions with deals cut by career politicians in the dark of night. We fully intend to expose it to the public,” he said in a statement.
“Public officials on public time with public computers in public buildings — we have a right to see the documents that are being hidden from public view.
“Why are they hiding documents and what is it they don’t want us to see?”
Stuart says the redistricting process was “very damaging” to the state.
Senate President and acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed House Bill 201, the plan redrawing House of Delegates districts, into law on Sept. 2.
The second redistricting plan passed the House 56-30 on Aug. 20 and passed the Senate the next day.
The first plan passed the Legislature Aug. 5, but flaws were found in the bill so Tomblin was forced to veto it on Aug. 17. He then called for a second redistricting special session.
The plan calls for 47 single-member districts, six three-member districts, two four-member districts and a five-member district in Monongalia County.
Opponents of the law say the configuration violates the Voter Rights Act and the “one person, one vote” concept.
“The public is cynical and they have a right to be. Politicians cut deals to preserve their seats without regard for the best interests of the public,” Stuart said.
“The result was an unconstitutional redistricting map that was gerrymandered for partisan political purposes. And, as insult to energy, they now say we have no right to see the documents behind the deals or the reasons why the public got shafted in the process.”
He says the GOP’s notice is intended to ensure that the politicians in the middle of the redistricting process do not destroy the evidence before a fair public hearing.
“If they intend to shred or destroy documents, they need to think twice about the consequences of those actions,” Stuart said.
Putnam and Mason counties have already notified the state of its plans to challenge the law. They contend it failed to establish single-delegate districts in their counties.
Putnam, in particular, argues it should be guaranteed more than one local representative.
South Charleston attorney Thornton Cooper told the Charleston Gazette Thursday that he plans to file his petition challenging the law with the state Supreme Court next week.
The West Virginia Chamber of Commerce also has considered filing a lawsuit against the new redistricting law. It, too, prefers single-member districts, believing it will provide better representation.