The U.S. state of West Virginia is divided into fifty-five counties, each of which is further subdivided into magisterial districts. The U.S. Census Bureau defines these districts as non-functioning subdivisions used for various purposes, such as conducting elections, apportioning county officials from different areas, recording land ownership, assessing property taxes, and collecting vital statistics. Magisterial districts possess no governmental organization or authority.
After attaining independence from Virginia in 1863, West Virginia's counties were divided into civil townships, with the goal of placing authority in the hands of local governments. However, township government proved impractical across the heavily rural state, with citizens unable to meet on a regular basis, and inadequate tax revenue to meet township responsibilities. Following the adoption of the Constitution of West Virginia in 1872, the townships were converted into magisterial districts, and the county courts (later county commissions) empowered to establish, consolidate, or otherwise modify them.
Each county shall be laid off by the county court into magisterial districts, not less than three nor more than ten in number, and as nearly equal as may be in territory and population. The districts as they now exist shall remain until changed by the county court. The county court may, from time to time, increase or diminish the number of such districts, and change the boundary lines thereof as necessity may require, in order to conform the same to the provisions of the Constitution of the State.
The only state other than West Virginia to use magisterial districts as a minor civil division of its counties is Virginia, which like West Virginia initially established a system of civil townships, in its Constitution of 1870. These were replaced by magisterial districts in 1874.
There are three hundred and fifty magisterial districts in West Virginia, an average of six districts per county. Greenbrier, Harrison, Mason, Ohio, and Wood Counties each contain ten districts, the maximum number provided for by state law. Brooke, Grant, and Hancock are the only counties with the minimum number of three. Twenty-four different counties include a Union District, thirteen have districts named after Ulysses S. Grant, and nine counties each have districts named for George Washington and Henry Clay.
List of the magisterial districts of West Virginia, sorted by county: