A majority of state House of Delegates members have told the state Chamber of Commerce they support efforts to have fewer or smaller multi-member delegate districts.
At least 61 members have said they support redistricting the state this year in a way that comes "closer" to having 100 single-member districts, according to a count provided by the Chamber based on questionnaires sent out by its political action committee, as well as interviews and news accounts.
The Chamber's vote count, if correct, indicates there may be support for one of the Chamber's main legislative goals this year, which is eliminating the multi-member delegate districts in time for the 2012 election. The Republicans have long had the same goal. Former Gov. Joe Manchin has also backed single-member districts.
The Democratic leadership in the House has not made clear its plans for redistricting.
"We have a survey in which, at this point, over 60 have identified themselves as supporters of single-member districts or something much, much closer to single-member districts than we currently have," said state Chamber President Steve Roberts.
"And rather than debate this all summer, wouldn't it be better that the Legislature just did what has been done in 48 other states and let people have districts of equal size?"
The change could shake up the political landscape in Kanawha County, which has the seven-member 30th District.
A number of speakers at a state Senate-sponsored public hearing in Charleston last week complained that delegates in the 30th District live near each other in Charleston. They said having no one from eastern Kanawha County representing the 30th defeats the point of having local representation.
House Majority Whip Mike Caputo, D-Marion, who is in a three-member district, said he didn't see much support for major change and said "outside" groups and the "extreme right" weren't going to dictate what the House should be doing.
Still, he said some multi-member districts might become single-member districts because of shifting population.
"But I don't believe — and I'm only one vote — I don't believe there will be 100 single-member districts in the state of West Virginia," Caputo said.
Caputo, whose job as whip is to get the Democratic caucus in line, also took exception with the Chamber's count.
"Tell the Chamber, 'I'm the whip and I'll count the votes and I know the members of the House pretty well,' " he said.
The Chamber asked lawmakers in a pre-election survey, "Do you support legislative districts that come closer to single-member districts?"
Among those who marked, "Yes", were House Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne. A spokeswoman for the speaker was not able to clarify his position by deadline.
In addition to that survey, the Chamber has compiled statements and spoken with lawmakers. Roberts said the number of supporters was approaching 70.
But the wording of the question provides some wiggle room and now the Chamber is sending out letters seeking to confirm lawmakers' positions. Roberts also joked that he usually builds a 10 percent "lie factor" into any vote count.