It’s widely acknowledged that women are vastly underrepresented in politics, despite making up over half of the electorate. Nowhere is this gap more profound than in the governor’s mansion; currently, women make up a pitiful 12% of gubernatorial offices. Vermont gubernatorial candidate Sue Minter (D) came close to shutting this gap, but appears, on early results, to have been defeated by current lieutenant governor Phill Scott (R) on Tuesday night, in the safe Democratic state.
Right before the election, Vermont fell in the middle of the pack for equal representation of women in elected office in the United States. Our recently updated Gender Parity Index (GPI) evaluates recent and current representation of women in each state’s congressional delegation, state executive offices, state legislature and local government to generate a score out of 100. A score of 50 represents perfect gender parity. In October 2016, Vermont had a modest parity score of 15.5 points and ranked 35th in the U.S. One particular strength of Vermont is that it boasts the second highest percentage of women in its state legislature. This is likely due to the state’s use of multi-winner districts, which historically have been linked to increasing the election of women.
Minter’s election to the governorship would have given the state a well-needed boost, raising the state’s standing to 13th in the nation with a parity score of 25.5, even if no other women were elected in 2016. This would have put Vermont more in line with the rest of New England and the Northeast, one of the regions that leads the nation in gender parity.
Minter’s likely defeat serves as a reminder that we are unlikely to see parity in our lifetimes at the current rate of change. Furthermore, the U.S. falls far behind other nations for the representation of women, coming in at an unimpressive 96th place in 2016.
Clearly, structural reforms are needed to accelerate the election of women. Representation2020 has a reform agenda that includes electoral reforms that have been shown to increase women’s representation in the past. Though advocates for gender parity might be disappointed with Vermont’s failure to elect a woman governor, we must instead focus on changing the electoral system to one that welcomes and encourages women’s participation in elected office.