By Cynthia Richie Terrell on October 16, 2015
By Alexa Zogopoulos & Mallory McPherson-Wehan
Women make up 50.8% of the population in the United States, but only 19% of Congress. Do we still live in a representative democracy if women are not being equally represented? It is easy to advertise these statistics and demand change, but if you have no actual plan to achieve gender parity, then your quest may be in vain. Representation 2020 seeks to present a plan with reasonable goals in order to “raise awareness of the underrepresentation of women in elected office, to strengthen coalitions that are supportive of measures to increase women's representation, and to highlight the often overlooked structural barriers to achieving gender parity in American elections.” Before we explain how exactly Representation 2020 seeks to raise awareness and make these landmark changes, let’s first explain why we need groups like this.
Why should we elect more women to office? Women represent over half of the country’s skills, knowledge, and talents. Women have a different perspective on needs in policy areas such as healthcare, transportation, education and jobs. Women in elected office increase the likelihood of conceiving and implementing effective legislation and just solutions to social, economic, and environmental problems. With more women in office, there will be a greater desire among politicians to reach out to their female voters and represent their concerns.
How do we get more women elected to political office? Well, first we need women to run. Representation 2020’s first goal is to recruit more women through intentional action. Whether it be targeting college-age students to get more involved in politics or recruit women from the local level to run, we need to identify women who want to run in this age of “political apathy.” While grassroots organizing will greatly assist in getting women’s names on the ballot, we must also hold political parties accountable for encouraging women to run for all offices. It is the duty of the parties to support their candidates, but it is important that they pay close attention to which members of their party are actually represented by the candidates. State Democratic and Republican parties must establish gender parity committees to acknowledge the level of gender parity among their candidates, while also supporting more women within their party to run for office. Political parties must make female representation a priority.
So now that we have women who want to run, how do we get them to win? Voting systems have a huge impact on gender representation. America is very unique with our “winner take all” system. This system does not reflect diversity or minorities. Representation 2020 claims that the best way to deal with our voting system is to implement ranked choice voting. Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank their desired candidates in order of preference, as opposed to just choosing one. These rankings then allow for second and third choice candidates to still gain “seats” in multi-winner elections while also allowing higher chances of winning for second and third-choice candidates in single-winner elections. This system rewards candidates who reach out to the most voters and helps lesser known candidates become recognized. Ranked choice voting also revolutionizes campaigns by forcing candidates to rely on more than just one group of supporters to get elected.
How do we know that this system actually works? Ranked choice voting has been implemented in the cities of Minneapolis, Oakland, San Francisco, Cambridge, and San Leandro. In all of these cases, there was a dramatic increase in women and minorities being elected. Even many universities including Ivy Leagues use ranked choice voting to elect their student representatives. In every case, from local to college-level, the implementation of ranked choice voting has been nothing but successful in increasing fair representation.
And how is it that something as seemingly simple as changing the way we vote leads to more minorities and women in office? The answer is simple: there is a change in the dynamic of competition in elections. Rather than elections being between one wealthy party leader and another wealthy party leader, ranked-choice voting opens up the pool to candidates of all different backgrounds and political statuses. With more than one “winner,” ranked choice voting allows more voters to feel as though their vote counts while also encouraging politicians to focus more on their own policies than attempting to crush their competitor with the monetary strength of their party.
The problem with enacting ranked choice voting is that no incumbent will want to implement a new voting system that would hurt his/her chances of being reelected. To start implementing this system, we would have to start by targeting communities that need the most revolutionary change in their representation. Representation 2020 seeks to start at the local level. As Americans, we tend to think that federal office is where representation matters the most-and it is very true we need representation there, but in order to get more women to run for office, we must start at the local and state level.