Women Winning: Ranked Choice Voting
Our winner-take-all voting system disadvantages non-status quo candidates. Ranked choice voting can be used in both single and multi-winner contests to address the barriers non-status quo candidates face. Multi-winner ranked choice voting, or Fair Representation Voting, combines:
- ranked choice voting - voters rank candidates in order of preference.
- multi-winner districts - districts represented by more than one person.
Fair Representation Voting is a form of proportional representation with a long history of use in the United States, currently many jurisdictions have adopted the fair representation system for local use.
What We Have: Winner-Take-All Elections
Most of the U.S. uses single-winner, winner-take-all elections. This means everyone in a community votes for their favorite candidate. The candidate with the most votes wins the election and represents the whole community, even if they have failed to win a majority (50%+1) of the votes.
Our research (see below) shows this type of election disadvantages women - especially women of color. It will take multiple generations for women to reach parity if we keep this antiquated system.
Here is how winner-take-all elections are disproportionately bad for women candidates:
Here is how fair representation elections help level the playing field for women candidates:
What We Need: Ranked Choice Voting
Under ranked choice voting, voters rank candidates in order of preference. They mark their favorite candidate as first choice and then indicate their second and additional back-up choices in order of preference. Voters may rank as many candidates as they want, knowing that indicating a lower ranked candidate will never hurt a more preferred candidate.
Candidates do best when they attract a strong core of first-choice support while also reaching out for second and even third choices.
When used as an "instant runoff" to elect a single candidate like a mayor or a governor, RCV helps elect a candidate that better reflects the support of a majority of voters. When used as a form of fair representation voting to elect more than one candidate like a city council, state legislature, or even Congress, RCV helps to more fairly represent the full spectrum of voters.
Click through our RCV dashboard to learn more about how RCV impacts representation outcomes:
What We Need: Multi-Winner Districts
The U.S. uses single-winner districts to elect the House of Representatives, which means each congressional district has one Member of Congress. Some state legislatures and city councils use 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-winner 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-winner districts increase women's representation for two key reasons:
- Voters are more likely to balance their ballots.
- Political parties seek to appeal to as many voters as they can, by recruiting more women and people of color to run.
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.
What We Can Do: The Fair Representation Act
The Fair Representation Act (HR 3863) gives voters of all backgrounds and all political stripes the power to elect House Members who reflect their views and will work constructively with others in Congress.
Under the Fair Representation Act, there will be more choices and several winners elected in each district. Congress will remain the same size, but districts will be larger, each electing 3, 4, or 5 winners. Voters will be free to rank their choices without fear of "spoilers." No district will be “red” or “blue.” Every district will fairly reflect the spectrum of voters.
Voters are clamoring for change. The Fair Representation Act is effective, constitutional, and grounded in American traditions. It will ensure that every vote counts, all voices are heard, and everyone has an equal opportunity to serve in elected office.
Memo: Ranked Choice Voting and Women's Representation
Released: January 2023
The following memo presents an update to our 2020 analysis (see below) of voting systems in the U.S. and their impact on women’s representation.
Overall, we have found that women continue to fare better in jurisdictions that use ranked choice voting than in cities with plurality voting systems. Of the 30 cities that use ranked choice voting to elect their executives (mayors), 12 (40%) are currently represented by women. In the 41 cities that use ranked choice voting to elect their legislatures (councils, boards), almost half of all electeds (137 of 282, or 49%) are women.
RCV remains one of the most promising tools for advancing women’s representation in the United States.
Why Women Won in 2021: New York City Report
Released: September 2022
In 2022, we released a report on the outcome of the 2021 elections in New York City. RepresentWomen partnered with The New Majority NYC (formerly 21 in '21) to study 1) the impact of term limits, matching funds, ranked choice voting, and candidate-focused strategies on women's representation, 2) how these factors worked together to bring NYC a majority-women council for the first time in history, and 3) what it will take to maintain and build upon this success story in the future.
View the Report Executive Summary
Election Reform & Women's Representation: Ranked Choice Voting in the U.S.
Released: June 2021
In 2021, we published an article in Politics and Governance on the history and impact of single- and multi-winner ranked choice voting on women’s representation in the U.S. In addition to revisiting some of the research from our 2016 and 2020 reports, this article allowed us to dig deeper into the available literature on ranked choice voting and identify knowledge gaps that should be addressed in future research.
In Ranked Choice Elections, Women WIN
Released: July 2020
Our 2020 ranked choice voting report, "In Ranked Choice Elections, Women WIN" provides a thorough review of ranked choice voting in the United States and how it is impacting women's representation in the cities that have implemented it. From 2010-2019, 19 cities and counties used ranked choice voting to elect their city officials, including 13 mayors and the city councilmembers in 14 jurisdictions. In that decade, women won 48% of all municipal elections.
Go to our Resources page for more information, tools, and resources on ranked choice voting and multi-winner districts.