By Katie Pruitt on June 13, 2018
In the eighth grade, my civics teacher tasked me with writing and delivering a speech on what my ideal American president would be like. Standing up in front of my class, I declared that my preferred president would be a woman. A male classmate criticized my speech because he believed that gender was irrelevant to whether someone can be an effective president. His comment upset me. Gender may not have been relevant to him but it sure was relevant to me. The state that I’m from, Virginia, has never elected a governor or a senator who was not a heterosexual white man. Women are 51% of the U.S. population, yet they make up only 19.8% of Congress and 25% of state legislatures. Gender was important to me because I wanted a role model.
Since then, I’ve also come to see the ways in which a legislature that is not reflective of its electorate can reinforce oppression. As a political science major at Swarthmore College, I’ve studied how systems that disenfranchise people of color, such as mass incarceration, have been instituted by overwhelmingly white legislatures. The news has shown me how lax campaign finance laws have created a Congress whose positions on important issues deviate greatly from the general public. Through my State Representative Leanne Krueger-Braneky’s heartbreaking stories of sexual harassment in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, I’ve seen how a gender-imbalanced legislature can silence women’s voices. Simply put, I’ve seen that a legislature that does not accurately reflect its electorate cannot govern effectively.
The first election I was eligible to vote in was the 2016 presidential election. I was excited to play some role in unraveling systemic exclusion by casting my ballot for the first female president of the United States and for the first female senator from Pennsylvania. During that election, though, I saw firsthand how the American electoral system is designed to reinforce that exclusion.
In the summer and fall of 2016, I canvassed extensively in the Philadelphia suburbs on behalf of Democratic candidates. Time and time again, I observed that the current electoral system was not serving voters. A disenchanted voter in Morton, PA told me that he was considering sitting out the presidential election because he didn’t want to choose between the “lesser of two evils.” A woman who lived in a low-income, historically black community in Chester, PA was worried that she wouldn’t be able to walk to her polling place because it was several miles away and her neighborhood had no sidewalks. A voter in Southeastern Pennsylvania complained about his representative but felt that he had no opportunity to replace that representative because his district was gerrymandered to be non-competitive. This whole experience culminated when on November 8, 2016, I stayed up to 3 a.m. to watch Donald Trump win the presidency over Hillary Clinton despite the fact that 2.86 million fewer Americans voted for Trump. It was clear to me, at that point, that the American electoral system is fundamentally flawed, and that only radical reform can fix it.
As a RepresentWomen intern, I hope to play some role in implementing reforms that the electoral system so desperately needs. RepresentWomen pushes for reform in all stages of the electoral process so as to promote inclusion, from changes to the ways that parties recruit candidates, to electoral reforms such as ranked-choice voting with multi-winner districts that would elect more women and people of color, to policies that would better support elected officials from marginalized backgrounds. I believe that these reforms have the potential to create a future where all voters, regardless of their background, can see themselves represented fairly.