The following memo presents an update to our 2020 analysis 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 31 cities that use ranked choice voting to elect their executives (mayors), 12 (39%) 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 (147 of 300, or 49%) are women.
RCV remains one of the most promising tools for advancing women’s representation in the United States.
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Released: January 23, 2023
RCV is one of the most promising tools for advancing women’s representation in the United States. Of the 31 cities that use ranked choice voting to elect their executives (mayors), 12 (39%) 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 (147 of 300, or 49%) are women.
Systems-level strategies, like RCV, advance gender parity by creating a level playing field for all candidates and eliminating the opportunity barriers that exist under plurality voting. Though women are underrepresented at every level of government in the U.S., holding less than one-third of all elected positions, women in ranked choice jurisdictions are better represented.
Ranked Choice Voting creates more opportunities for women to run and win by:
- Mitigating vote splitting and the spoiler effect. Women, more often than men, are told to “wait their turn” and are viewed as less electable by party leaders in plurality elections. In RCV elections, multiple women can run without splitting the vote and spoiling an election.
- Increasing campaign civility. Positive campaigning benefits both candidates and voters. When candidates are less focused on launching or defending negative attacks from competitors, they can spend more time campaigning on issues that matter to voters to earn broader support.
- Removing a need for costly runoff elections. Runoffs are often expensive and lead to lower voter turnout. RCV mitigates this by acting as an “instant runoff” where voters’ second and third choices are counted immediately. For women candidates, who often need to outraise men to win, RCV helps them focus on what matters most: connecting with voters.
- Increasing candidate-voter engagement and voter turnout. In RCV, candidates are incentivized to seek broader support in the form of first-, second-, and third-choice votes. This approach results in voters feeling they have more of a stake in the election, boosting turnout.
Ranked choice voting advances women’s representation at the state and city level:
Women’s Representation in RCV Cities
The impact of RCV on women’s representation is best demonstrated at the local level, which has long been the testing ground for new voting systems. Of the 30 mayors in RCV cities today, 12 (40%) are women, nine are people of color (30%), and four are women of color (13%). In city councils, 147 of 300 RCV seats (49%) are held by women, 96 by people of color (34%), and 55 (20%) by women of color. Comparatively, women held 32% of all local offices as of March 2022.
Women’s Representation in RCV States
RCV is currently used at the state-level in two states, Maine and Alaska. Maine became the first state to use ranked choice voting in 2018. That same year, Janet Mills became the first woman governor of Maine and first governor elected by ranked choice voting following the state’s first ranked choice primary. In other statewide offices, there was a 6.4% increase in women candidates and 9.3% increase in women winners from the 2014/16 non-RCV elections to the 2018/20 RCV elections. Correspondingly, Maine’s parity score in our annual Gender Parity Index has steadily risen since RCV was first introduced. Alaska’s first use of RCV took place in 2022.