Multi-Winner Districts and Women’s Representation: From New Zealand to the United States

By Toni Gingerelli on September 29, 2017

New Zealand recently conducted its 2017 Parliamentary elections. With a mixed member electoral system in the House of Representatives, officials are elected from both single-winner electorates and party lists. In the recent election, 45% of the party list seats (multi-winner) were won by women, compared to only 35% of the general electorate seats (single-winner).

 

Previous research conducted by Representation2020 and FairVote has demonstrated that multi-winner districts improve the chances of women getting elected, when compared to single-winner districts (see FairVote’s Fair Representation Act Report). For example, although only 10 states total include any multi-winner districts in their state legislative elections, the two states closest to parity in their state legislatures alone (Arizona and Vermont) both elect their state legislatures with at least some multi-winner districts, as does the state that comes closest to parity overall (New Hampshire). Scholars agree that on average, women do win election at higher rates in multi-winner elections than in single-winner elections. The party lists in New Zealand, from which multiple people are elected, produce similar results in terms for women’s representation.

 

It is important to note that voluntary political party quotas also played a role in the numbers of women’s representation in New Zealand’s lower house. Voluntary political party quotas are goals parties can set to ensure that women are more fairly represented. However, the observed association between women’s representation and multi-winner elections in both New Zealand’s lower house and US state legislatures point to the need to embrace systemic reform so that the United States can take the necessary steps towards reaching gender parity in elected office.

 

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Graphic by Madeline Brown


 
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