Room for Improvement: Vermont Earns D Grade for Gender Parity in Elected Office
Representation2020 has released its latest analysis on the underrepresentation of women in elected office, quantified through the Gender Parity Index (GPI). The GPI rates women’s recent electoral success at the local, state, and national levels on a scale of 0 (no women in major elected offices) to 100 (women hold all such offices). These scores also translate to a letter grade. The goal of gender parity is a score of 50 and an A grade, which indicates that women and men are equally likely to hold office. The 2017 GPI finds that women are underrepresented at all levels of government.
As of June 2017, the median Gender Parity Score is 18.6, barely up from the 2015 score of 18.1. The GPI ranks New Hampshire first and Mississippi last in women’s political representation. Out of all 50 states, 33 have a Gender Parity Score below 25, giving them a grade of D or F.
The GPI indicates regional gender parity trends across the nation. Six of the ten states with the lowest Gender Parity Scores are located in the South (Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee). In contrast, the Northeast and West lead the country in women’s representation, containing nine of the ten highest ranked states (Arizona, California, Hawaii, Maine, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington).
Vermont ranks 35th in the nation for women’s representation, with a Gender Parity Score of 14.1 and a D grade. Vermont has shown improvement since its 2015 score of 11.5. In order to continue this progress, Vermont must focus on its congressional delegation. Vermont has never elected a woman to the U.S. Senate or the U.S. House of Representatives. Mississippi is the only other state with this dubious distinction.
Vermont has had one female governor in its history and currently only one out of the six statewide executive office positions is filled by a woman. Vermont’s State Legislature touts the highest share of female members in the nation. The Senate Majority Leader, Speaker of the House, and House Majority Leader are all women. Since 1993, the percentage of seats held by women in the Vermont Legislature has increased from 34 percent to 40 percent. At the local level, only one of Vermont’s five largest cities has a female mayor.
The Vermont State Legislature uses a combination of single-member and multi-member districts for the House of Representatives and Senate. The use of multi-member districts has proved successful in supporting gender parity, since Vermont’s State Legislature is unmatched in terms of female representation. Vermont can maintain this success and find further improvement if it transitions entirely to multi-member districts and implements ranked choice voting for electing state representatives.
“Changing rules and systems to create equality is part of the American tradition,” notes Cynthia Richie Terrell, Representation2020 founder and director. “To win gender parity in our lifetimes we must pivot to system reforms that include gender targets for PACs and political parties so more women run, fair representation voting systems so more women win, and updated legislative practices so more women can serve and lead.”