By Cynthia Richie Terrell on October 10, 2014
Vermont ranks 39th in the nation for gender equality in local, state and national elected office, according to a report published this week by Representation 2020, a national group that promotes women in politics.
The state is second highest in the nation for women in the lower house of the Legislature, but scores poorly in other areas. Sixty-three of Vermont’s 149 state representatives are women, or better than 40 percent. That percentage has increased from 34 percent in 1993, the report found.
Representation 2020’s report also found that although nationwide gender parity rose from 9 percent 10 years ago to 16 percent last year, gender parity in Vermont declined from 20 percent 10 years ago to 12 percent in 2013.
Vermont is one of four states that has never elected a woman to Congress. Only a few women have been nominated on a major party ticket for the U.S. House or Senate. Vermont has had one female governor, Madeleine Kunin, from 1985 to 1991.
One of six statewide executive officeholders is female: Treasurer Beth Pearce. Only one of the state’s eight elected mayors is female, Liz Gamache in St. Albans.
Representation 2020’s report assigned a gender parity score to each of the 50 states. The score measures women’s electoral success at the local, state and national level on a scale of zero to 100. A score of 50 would indicate that women and men are equally represented.
No state has ever received a score of 50, while 22 states have scores of 15 or less, the study found. Vermont’s score was 11. New Hampshire was first in the nation, with a score of 47.45.
The report found that women are still a long way from parity nationwide. At the current rate, it said, women will achieve parity with men in the U.S. Senate 71 years from now and in the U.S. House in 89 years. Women will reach parity in state legislatures in 139 years and parity in statewide executive offices in 900 years, it found.
Vermont’s Legislature will reach gender parity in 28 years, compared to the national average of 139 years, the study found.
The large number of women in Vermont’s Legislature, and in other state legislatures, is in part due to the use of legislative districts served by more than one legislator, Representation 2020 said.
In 2013, state legislatures that used multi-member districts were 31 percent female while those that did not were 22.8 percent female, the report found.
Representation 2020’s director said if women want to achieve parity with men in elected office they are going to have to change the way the political system works.
“We must embrace voting systems that elect more women, party rules to recruit more women candidates and legislative practices that make it more feasible for women to serve and lead if we are to fix the under-representation of women,” Cynthia Terrell said in a statement.