Cities and counties across the U.S. have adopted fair representation voting techniques in order to improve their electoral process, and it has led to increased voter engagement. A report co-authored by FairVote and the New America Foundation found that racial minority populations prefer ranked choice voting and find it easy to use, and that ranked choice voting increased turnout by 2.7 times in San Francisco.
While the ideal voting system to elect women is ranked choice voting with multi-member districts, this is not possible for executive positions that only have one winner, such as mayor and city manager. For these elections, it is still important that communities use ranked choice voting because it can promote the representation of historically under-represented groups like women and racial and ethnic minorities.
This update is necessary because women are severely underrepresented at the mayoral level. Of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., women serve as mayors in only 20.
Some city councils and school boards use single winner districts, where one person represents all constituents in a district. Others use two-member or multi-member districts, where multiple people represent the same district. We propose that all legislative bodies adopt multi-member districts to better represent the opinions, diversity, and values of their constituents.
Compared to winner-take-all elections, ranked choice voting in multi-member contests allows more diverse groups of voters to elect candidates of choice. This promotes diversity of political viewpoint as well as diversity of candidate background and demographics.
Multi-member districts increase women's representation for two key reasons:
Amy (2002), Zimmerman (1994), and Troustine (2008) find that in the multi-winner environment voters are more likely to vote for male and female candidates to balance their choices, meaning parties have more incentive to run female candidates. This leads to more recruitment and support of female candidates, and therefore more women in office.
Political parties are less likely to heavily recruit and campaign for local elections as opposed to state and federal elections, but voters are more likely to balance their ticket and vote for a woman or person of color for a multi-member district at any level of government.
Current representation supports this research: Among the largest 100 cities in the United States, the average percentage of women on city councils with only at-large seats is 41% while the average percentage of women on city councils with only single member district seats is 28%.