Over the past 100 years, women have crossed a series of major milestones on the path to parity. And in 2020, more women have filed to run for office than ever before. But, we need to keep these achievements in perspective. According to our research, progress towards parity remains uneven across geography, race, party, and age. Today, women hold just over a quarter of all available seats in government, from national and state-level offices to major local-level offices.
Over the last several decades, advocates in the United States have focused on building a pipeline of women in elected office by preparing individual women to run. As important as this work is, it won't work on its own. The fact that we are still celebrating candidate firsts for women in 2020, the year of the Suffrage Centennial, serves as a reminder of how incremental progress has been over the past century.
Existing strategies to increase the number of women in government have only gotten us halfway to parity - equality can't wait another 100 years.
At RepresentWomen, we track trends in women's representation and leadership in the United States and abroad to explore what strategies are working to advance women's representation and leadership. Our latest research indicates that innovative systems strategies - such as electoral reforms - and temporary special measures - such as gender quotas - greatly accelerate the rate at which women around the world (and in select jurisdictions in the United States) are approaching gender parity.
One of the greatest barriers to women's representation in 2020 is the antiquated single-winner plurality voting system we use to elect representatives to the U.S. House. It's a broken system that disadvantages women at nearly every stage of the process by limiting competition, protecting incumbents, and fortifying the status quo.
Our proposed solution is to change the way we elect members of the U.S. House by:
To learn more about the projected impact of our proposal, please refer to the visualization below.
This map presents a side-by-side comparison of the number of women presently represented in the U.S. House (23%) with an estimation of how implementing multi-member districts with ranked choice voting could impact representation.
For these transformative changes to succeed, women, young people, and people of color - in other words, those most disadvantaged by the current system - must lead this movement. Over the next few years, we will focus on growing this coalition and enhancing its call to action so that by 2030, legislative advocacy in Congress will result in reform.
RepresentWomen and FairVote are the ideal foundation for this project. CEOs Cynthia Richie Terrell and Rob Richie share a lifetime of commitment to equitable representation and are leaders in the electoral reform movement, with complementary experience in research, outreach, and coalition-building.
With support from the Equality Can't Wait Challenge, RepresentWomen and FairVote will Educate, Engage and Empower a coalition that embodies our nation's future: one able to partner with stakeholders to win changes for transforming leadership in Congress and to provide a blueprint for electing more women at the state and local level in order to win parity in our lifetimes.
In 1787, the American government was failing due to systemic flaws; our revolutionary leaders gathered to forge a new Constitution. Today, a chorus of thinkers are calling for a similar commitment to changing the electoral systems that are at the root of our failing, unrepresentative Congress. Together, we can write the next chapter in American history by modernizing the way we elect the People's House.
Cynthia Richie Terrell is the founder and director of RepresentWomen, a founder of the ReflectUS coalition, and an advocate for systems strategies to advance women’s representation and leadership here and abroad. Terrell co-founded FairVote, where she served in leadership roles seeking electoral reform for over two decades.
She is published in many journals and news publications, is a frequent media source, and has spoken widely about electoral reform and data-driven strategies to elect more women. Terrell began her career with extensive work on campaigns for the U.S. President, Congress, statewide executive office, and state and local initiatives.
Khalid Pitts, FairVote’s, Executive VP for Policy and Programs, is a seasoned political and public relations strategist with decades of experience directing national political and legislative campaigns, non-profit executive management, and leading national advocacy programs. Pitts’ background includes senior-level positions at the Sierra Club, SEIU, USAction, and Democracy Partners.
Pitts is a skilled tactician and organizational leader who understands the nuts and bolts of organizing. As co-founder and executive board co-chair for Health Care for America Now (HCAN), he helped build a coalition of over 1,000 organizations representing 30 million people as Congress passed the Affordable Care Act.
Michelle Whittaker has over 15 years of experience with advocacy outreach, strategic communications, website development, electoral reform, and grassroots mobilization. Her expertise is in strategy development, storytelling, constituency engagement, organizing, and media outreach.
Whittaker is the principal of MCW Creative Group, a strategic consulting firm for nonprofits and political campaigns, including this year for a successful woman challenger to a male incumbent on the Washington, D.C. city council. Her organizational and leadership experience includes directing communications at FairVote, the Democracy Initiative, the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society, and founding Ranked Choice Voting for Maryland.
Educate: June 2021 - June 2022 We will educate stakeholders from target constituencies with smartly packaged research on the problems with House elections and our proposed solutions. We will fund and share research addressing questions from prospective allies. We will track the: (1) number of organizations that join our Representation Now coalition; (2) diversity of coalition members; and (3) number of educational events delivered.
Engage: July 2022 - December 2023 We will engage coalition members in the design of a strategic plan for a national call to action. We will track progress through the: (1) number of organizations engaged with the coalition; (2) number of women, young people, and people of color who are leaders and spokespeople; and (3) individual and collective reach of coalition members.
Empower: January 2024 - June 2026 We will empower Representation Now members with tools needed to lead a national call for action and educate and engage their communities to create the conditions for electoral reform. We will track the: (1) number and diversity of traditional and social media hits for the project; (2) the shift in discourse about the need for systemic reform; (3) the success of the coalition itself to bridge divides across racial, age, and partisan lines; (4) the impact of our coalition in expanding FairVote’s coalition work; and (5) the number of high impact donors - and amount given - to coalition members to support their work.
Our ultimate success will be measured by the number of women, people of color, and young people elected to Congress.