The House of Delegates is the lower chamber of the West Virginia legislature and the larger of the two legislative bodies. To be eligible for election to the House, a person must be of voting age and a resident of the district for at least one year by the day of the election.
Delegates served one-year terms under the state’s original 1863 constitution. Their terms have been set at two years since the adoption of the 1872 constitution, which is still in force. In the beginning the House had only 47 members, but by 1873 it had 65. It grew to 86 delegates by 1903, 94 by 1917, and finally to its current size of 100 members in 1953.
House districts sometimes follow county lines, but most districts include parts of more than one county. Unlike the Senate, which has two members for each of its 17 districts, the number of delegates per House district varies from one to several. Although Kanawha County has long had the largest population and therefore the largest legislative delegation, that wasn’t always the case. The 1872 constitution initially allocated the largest number of delegates, four, to Ohio County. Kanawha County was second with three delegates, while Berkeley, Harrison, Jefferson, Marion, Marshall, Mason, Monongalia, and Preston counties had two each. Others had just one each.
In 2011, the House realigned its districts to reflect population shifts from the 2010 Census and increased the total number of districts from 58 to 67. The redistricting increased the number of single-member districts from 36 to 47, leaving 20 multi-member districts with two to five delegates. In the 2012 election, Democrats retained control of the House, but Republicans gained enough to have 46 of the 100 seats, the party’s largest representation since the 1930 election flipped control of the House from the Republicans to the Democrats.
The House is equal to the Senate in the process of passing resolutions and bills, including the state budget. However, unlike the Senate, the House has no role in the confirmation or rejection of appointments made by the governor. Because the House chamber has more seats than the Senate chamber, it is the location for joint sessions of the legislature, such as when the governor delivers the annual State of the State address.
Only the House can impeach state officials. Impeached officials then face trial in the Senate. The House has impeached three officials, two state treasurers and a state auditor. In 1875, the House impeached Treasurer John Burdett, who was removed from office after trial in the Senate in 1876. In 1926, the House impeached Auditor John C. Bond, but he resigned before facing trial in the Senate. In 1989, the House impeached Treasurer A. James Manchin, who also resigned from office before facing trial in the Senate.
The House’s presiding officer is the speaker, who is elected from among the members. The speaker of the House is second in line, behind the Senate president, to fill a vacancy in the governor’s office. Two speakers share the record for serving longest in that position: Robert C. ‘‘Chuck’’ Chambers, who presided for 10 years from 1987 through 1996, and and Robert S. “Bob” Kiss, who presided for 10 years, from 1997 through 2006. Close behind them was William Flannery, who became speaker in 1949 and died in office in 1958.
Another speaker, Ivor Boiarsky, died of an apparent heart ailment at age 51 in the waning days of the 1971 legislative session. He had been considered an especially effective leader. When he was House finance chairman, Boiarsky initiated the process that led to the 1968 ratification of the Modern Budget Amendment, which updated the state budget process. In his first year as speaker in 1969, he helped to pass a reorganization of the higher education system, which included the creation of the Board of Regents. Delegates chose Lew McManus on March 13, 1971, to succeed Boiarsky and reelected him twice as speaker. Wayne County Delegate Richard “Rick” Thompson served as speaker from 2007 to 2013. Tim Miley, a Democrat from Harrison County, was elected speaker in 2013.
Last Revised on June 18, 2013
Atkinson, George W. "Legislative History of West Virginia," in James M. Callahan, ed, Semi-Centennial History of West Virginia. Charleston: Semi-Centennial Commission, 1913.
West Virginia Blue Book. State of West Virginia. Charleston, 2001.