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.
In 2020-2021, an additional 25 municipalities used RCV for the first time, including New York City for its primary elections.
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 30. However, in the 28 cities using RCV to elect their mayors, women serve in 12.
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.
Still, even in single-member contests, ranked choice voting still benefits women. Women compose only 41% of the city councils of the 100 largest cities in the U.S. In comparison, in the 33 cities that use RCV to elect their legislative bodies, women make up 51%.
Cambridge, MA has used proportional ranked choice voting to elect their school committee and city council since 1941. Learn more about the impact it has had on descriptive representation in our dashboard below.
Oakland, CA has used ranked choice voting to elect their mayor, city auditor, city attorney, city council and school board since 2010. Learn more about the impact it has had on descriptive representation in our dashboard below.
Portland, ME has used ranked choice voting to elect their charter commissioners and city council since 2011. In 2021, they elected 3 women to their four-seat position of at-large commissioner. All three women, along with a fourth woman candidate, were part of the "Rose Slate". They had worked collaboratively during their campaign, reinforcing our research that ranked choice voting incentives positive campaigning and candidate co-endorsement.
New York City, NY used ranked choice voting for the first time since 1941 in their primary elections for mayor, public advocate, comptroller, the five borough presidents, and the city council. In the general election, women won the majority (61%) of city council seats for the first time in history. Maya Wiley, who finished in third place in the mayoral race, wrote an opinion piece post-election advocating for ranked choice voting as being especially beneficial for women and people of color like herself.