electoral reform

Multi-Winner Districts

Posted on Women Win on March 12, 2021

In the U.S. and other countries women fare best in proportional representation systems. Ranked choice voting with multi-winner districts is the best way of implementing proportional representation. And better yet, the U.S. has a long history of using ranked choice voting with multi-winner districts, which we can build upon.


Our partners in this reform include: FairVote; American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Rep. Don Beyer (Va.)

House Expansion

Posted on Women Win on March 12, 2021

Although a record number of women are running for Congress nearly every election cycle, many are running in uncompetitive races because they are running as challengers. Open-seats are the best chance for new and diverse voices to enter congress, and expanding the House is not only constitutional, it is what many of the founders intended at the Houses’ creation.

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Ranked Choice Voting

Posted on Women Win on March 02, 2021

Ranked choice voting is currently used in 21 jurisdictions (and counting) in the United States and many other countries around the world. Our 2016 and 2020 reports found that in municipalities using ranked choice voting women and people of color had better electoral outcomes.

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Our partners in this reform include: FairVote; American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Rep. Don Beyer (Va.); Rep. Jamie Raskin (Md.)

District Design

Posted on Our Research on October 25, 2020

Our research finds that election rules and systems impact women's representation in government. In the U.S. and other countries, women have fared best when there is proportional representation (PR). For more information about the rules and systems used around the world, please turn to our international research.

In the United States, multi-winner ranked choice voting is the best way to achieve proportional representation. In the sections below, we'll cover the importance of district design for women's representation, but please note that RepresentWomen only advocates for multi-winner districts (MMDs) in ranked choice elections. To learn more about ranked choice voting, please turn to our latest research on voting reforms

Although multi-winner districts were once used to elect Congressional delegates to the U.S. House Representatives, today, our best examples come from state legislative chambers, cities, and counties. In the graph below, you'll find the percent of women elected to state legislatures that use multi-member districts. 

infogram_0_6f5be39d-2ac1-4e71-9df2-21c655483db7Women's Representation in MMDs 2020https://e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?ZT1text/javascript

*Please note that not all multi-member districts are created the same. And that women will tend to be better-represented in districts that elect three to five representatives than in two-member districts. 

What are voting districts?

In the United States, state legislatures have the authority to partition their states into smaller subdivisions - or voting districts - from which representatives may be elected. In some districts, voters are represented by a single representative. In others, two or more people may be elected to represent a single constituency.

There are three types of voting districts in the United States:

  • Single-member districts (SMDs) - in which one representative is elected to serve a single district.
    • At present, the majority of states use single-member districts to elect U.S. House Representatives. 
  • Multi-member districts (MMDs) - in which two or more representatives are elected to serve a single district.
    • Most of the original 13 states used multi-member districts (MMDs) in Congressional elections. This practice ended in 1842. 
    • Of the 7,383 seats available in all state legislatures, 15% (1,082) are elected from districts that have more than one representative. 
  • At-large - in which there are no districts and representatives are elected to serve all voters within the state, city, or county as a single constituency. 
    • At-large voting is used to elect U.S. House Representatives in states that have only one Representative.
    • There are seven states that currently elect U.S. House Representatives at-large: Alaska, Delaware, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming.
    • All fifty states elect two U.S. Senators at-large on staggered schedules.

How does district design impact women's representation?

The number of representatives elected from a single district to the same legislative body is a matter of district design (or district magnitude). Our research shows that electoral outcomes for women can vary significantly depending on the number of representatives elected. 

Consider the following graph:

infogram_0_536f6972-961d-4107-adbf-c5a667bb5232MMD Comparison with SMDhttps://e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?ULEtext/javascript

Maryland, New Hampshire, and West Virginia each use a combination of multi-winner and single-winner districts in their state legislatures. All else equal, women are consistently better-represented in multi-winner districts over single-winner districts. 

Now consider the next graph: 

infogram_0_08538524-fb9c-454e-a893-5ea09862348aMMD v. SMD Women's Rep. Avg. 1976-2020https://e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?nGttext/javascript

Women's representation in state legislatures has grown steadily since 1976. Seven of the ten state legislatures that use multi-member districts have more women legislators than the national average (29%). The overall average of women's representation in state legislatures using MMDs (33%) is also higher than it is in those using SMDs. 

Here is a case-example that demonstrates the importance of district design for women's representation. In the 1980s, Wyoming was one of the highest-ranking states for women's representation in state legislatures, with their representation reaching a peak of 34% in 1986. In 1992, the state ended its use of MMDs and began electing its representatives in SMDs instead. In 2020, women make up just 16% of the state legislature. 

Why are women more likely to be elected in MMDs? 

Political science research suggests that multi-member districts improve women’s representation for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Political parties perceive that they will be rewarded by voters for having a more diverse candidate pool. Having larger districts makes parties more likely to recruit and field more diverse candidates - including both women and people of color - in an effort to appeal to more voters. 
  • Voters are more likely to vote for women if they can balance their ballots by also voting for a man. This is premised on voters being biased against women candidates, so women are more likely to win when there will be more than one winner in a district's election. 
  • With larger candidate pools, candidates are less likely to engage in person-to-person attacks and more likely to focus on making a positive case for themselves. This can also make women more likely to enter the race in the first place. 
  • In theory, women are more likely to win in open-seat races. Since multi-member districts have a higher rate of turnover, there are more races for women to run and win in. *Please note that much of the existing literature is split on this point; our team is in the process of researching the impact of district design on the incumbency advantage, so please stay tuned for more information! 

Our Proposal

In our annual Gender Parity Index, we credit states with achieving progress towards gender parity while noting how incremental and uneven progress has been. In the absence of systems-based approaches, progress towards parity will continue to lag behind its full potential - even as more women begin to run for office. 

To achieve gender parity in our lifetimes, we need to support systems-based approaches to leveling the playing field and adopt multi-winner ranked choice voting on a national scale. With our partners at FairVote, we have conducted research on what this could look like in the U.S. House.

See the following map:

infogram_0_bd82aeca-ccaa-4215-bddf-3b9d972a8d38FRA Projected Impact on Representationhttps://e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?UmXtext/javascript


U.S. House Expansion

Posted on Our Research on October 14, 2020

infogram_0_045d00b9-d543-45f1-9597-d71826c14206Women's Rep and House Expansionhttps://e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?Kgatext/javascript

When the House of Representatives was established in 1789, there were 65 seats, with a representation ratio of 1 to 60,000. The number of seats in the House steadily increased as the population grew and the United States expanded, until the Permanent Apportionment Act of 1929 which capped the "People's House" at 435 seats, where it remains today. 

Increasing the size of the House would help to mitigate partisanship and gerrymandering, lessen the impact of money in politics, and improve the descriptive representation of women and people of color. Expanding the House to 593 seats, as per the cube root rule, implementing ranked choice voting and multi-member districts, women's representation would rise from 101 (the number as of January 2020) to 193. Due to the protections enjoyed by incumbents, most of whom are white men, the most effective way of increasing women and people of color's representation is through open-seats. By expanding the size of the House underrepresented populations will have a greater opportunity to elect a representative of their choosing. 

infogram_0_90ef1467-b136-4c5e-8b49-01a00e4f637cHouse Expansion Briefhttps://e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?ITCtext/javascript

Download Data 

In the past century, while the the size of the House has remained stagnant, the population has continued to grow and the representation ratio has ballooned to 1 representative for every 747,000 constituents. Not only does the U.S. have one of the most disproportionate representation ratio is the world, the average constituencies is likely to reach 1 million residents between 2040 and 2050. 

Little is written about the what the size of the House should be in the U.S. Constitution, it only mentions there should be no more than one representative for every 30,000 constituents and the number of representatives should be determined by the population as calculated in the decennial census. James Madison wrote in Federalist 55 "I take for granted ... that the number of representatives will be augmented from time to time in the manner provided by the Constitution." Many Americans feel alienated from their representatives in what was supposed to be the "People's House," the only body to be directly elected by the people from its establishment, increasing the size is not only constitutional but will have many positive effects.

More on this topic from our allies in the field: Jesse Wegman, Lee Drutman, Democracy and Constitution Clinic


Posted on Media on August 08, 2019

Women LEAD

Embodying the phrase “if you can see it, you can be it,” normalizing women in political leadership positions will normalize the idea of women as leaders, period. Despite the growing numbers of women legislators, this progress does not automatically translate into women's uptick in executive or staff leadership positions. It's time we change that with intentional systems reforms. It's time we de-bug our democracy and Let Women Lead.

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Congress, state legislatures, and local governments must modernize their internal practices and culture so that women legislators can serve and lead effectively. Erratic work schedules, low pay rates, geographic distance, and unfair leadership selection processes serve as a challenge for many women—especially those caring for relatives and managing households. Although these reforms would benefit men and women, these issues disproportionately affect women and will continue barring women from serving.

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Women WIN 

In January of 2021 with women holding 27 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives, the U.S. ranked 67th in the world for women’s representation in the lower house. Despite record-breaking election cycles the U.S. remains continually outpaced by 70+ countries including the majority of our democratic allies—allies that don’t have better women running, but better systems for women to run in and WIN.

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Women RUN

RepresentWomen's mission is to reform the institutions and structures that hold women back from running for office rather than forcing women to change. Increasing the recruitment, training, and funding of women candidates will be more effective in getting women elected at every level of government. It's time we dismantle these barriers for women who want to run for office.

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House it Going?: The Case for Expanding the House of Representatives 

While the US population continues to grow, the number of elected officials representing them at the highest levels of government has not changed in more than a century. Luckily there is an easy solution, expand the US House of Representatives addressing the disproportionate representation ratio and increasing opportunities for women to run for office and win. 

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How Does Ranked Choice Voting Help Women?

Ranked Choice Voting is having a moment. Learn more about this game-changing systems strategy which will decrease partisanship, lower election costs, and increase the number of women who run in and win elections. 

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RCV Means: RepresentWomen

Learn about the many benefits of ranked choice voting, and how they help elect a more representative government.

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RepresentWomen 101

Learn about RepresentWomen and our systems strategy approach to reaching gender parity in politics. 

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11.2020 RepresentWomen Post-Election Fall Webinar

Join experts in the field for RepresentWomen's fall webinar on how women faired in the 2020 election cycle and what needs to be done going forward to reach parity in politics.

Featuring: Cynthia Richie Terrell, Susannah Wellford (Running Start), Michelle Whittaker, Jennifer Rajkumar (NY State Assemblywoman), Amber McReynolds (National Vote at Home Institute), Onida Coward Mayers (MirRam Group), Mehrnaz Teymourian, and Sheila Krumholz (Center for Responsive Politics). 

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8.2020 Summer Speaker Series: International Women's Representation

This is the final installment of our five part series. This week we discuss the women's elected representation around the world and what types of electoral rules and systems allow for a more representative democracy.

Featuring: Tiffany Gardner (ReflectUS), Sandra Pepera (National Democratic Institute), and Hannah So (RepresentWomen)

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8.2020 Summer Speaker Series: Intro to Systems Strategies/Women in Politics

This is part four of a five part series. This week we dive into ways in which everyone can support women in politics. In this talk we cover what it is like to be a woman in politics, as well as how to support and promote more women to run for public office.  

Featuring: Rina Shah, Jenifer Rajkumar, Jheannelle Wilkins (Maryland General Assembly), and Taylor Herrick (RepresentWomen) 

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7.2020 Summer Speaker Series: PACs and Female Candidate Support

This is part three of a five part series. This week we discuss our recently published report on PAC and individual donations to women candidates during the 2018 election cycle. Our panelists consider the influence PACs have on elections and female candidate support in order to analyze the role that money plays in elections and what donors and individuals can do to support women running for office. 

Featuring: Rina Shah, Sarah Bryner (Center for Responsive Politics), Corrinne Bennet (RepresentWomen), and Maura Reilly (RepresentWomen)

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7.2020 Summer Speaker Series: Ranked Choice Voting

This is part two of a five part series. This week we discuss our recently published Ranked Choice Voting report and how people can help support ranked choice voting locally and nationally.  

Featuring: Michelle C. Whittaker (Democracy Initiative), Maura Reilly (RepresentWomen), and Courtney Lamendola (RepresentWomen)

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7.2020 Summer Speaker Series: RepresentWomen 101

RepresentWomen’s mission is to strengthen our democracy by advancing reforms that break down barriers to ensure more women can run, win, serve, and lead. Through this talk series, we aim to give an overview of what we do at RepresentWomen, and introduce our research to foster more conversations surrounding getting women elected and how to support them. This is a five part series that dives into ranked choice voting, PACS and female candidate support, an introduction to systems strategies and women in politics, and international women's representation.

Featuring: Cynthia Richie Terrell (RepresentWomen), Amber McReynolds (National Vote at Home Institute), and Susannah Wellford (Running Start)

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12.2019 Annual Electoral Reform Symposium

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06.2019: System Strategies to Win Gender Parity

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08.2017: Why We Need Ranked Choice Voting

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07.2017: The Declaration of Sentiments Then and Now

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06.2017: The Fair Representation Act

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11.2013: Fair Representation Voting

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09.2013: A Century From Suffrage to Parity

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09.2013: Forum on the State of Women's Representation

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Women Winning

Posted on Our Solutions on July 24, 2017

Electoral Reforms Drive Change

Our mission is to reform the institutions and structures holding women back from getting involved in politics. Recruiting, training, and funding women candidates will be more effective once our electoral systems stop systemically disadvantaging women.

Below are suggestions on how to dismantle these barriers for women candidates.

Take Action 

It's Time for New Strategies to Elect More Women & Win Gender Parity

Posted on Blog on November 08, 2016

The nation may wake up tomorrow to its first woman president and a record number of women Senators, but down ballot, the news is not good for women in elected office. At least 44 governors will be men next year, and the U.S rank among all nations for the representation of women has declined from 44th in 1995 to 96th in 2016. To win gender parity, intentional action and structural changes are necessary at every level of government.

Training Is Only The First Step

Posted on Blog on June 16, 2016