Voting Systems

Voting Systems

The U.S. Constitution provides few guidelines for how we elect our representatives, yet many voting rules and standards have hardly changed over time. While other countries, such as New Zealand, Mexico, and Sweden, have embraced contemporary voting techniques that improve representation, the U.S. system is past due for modernization. Consider the following chart, for example. 

infogram_0_97796256-71f3-42bd-9f1d-705b72075d832021 OECD - Interactive

Of the 37 members of the OECD, many of which are our close allies, the top-ranked countries use proportional voting systems and gender quotas - both improve representation outcomes for women. The United States, with it's single-winner winner-take-all elections, ranks 25th in the OECD for women's representation in the House of Representatives. Of the 190+ countries monitored by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, the US ranking is even lower

At RepresentWomen, we believe it is vital that we pay more attention to what our peers are doing to elect more women. The US is already fortunate to have a robust women's movement and, increasingly, greater numbers of women are running for office. What we need next is a system that is fair for all candidates to run in. Keep reading to learn more about how parity is over a century away with our current system and what we propose instead.

What We Have: Winner-Take-All Elections

Most of the U.S. uses single-winner, winner-take-all elections. This means everyone in a community votes for their favorite candidate. The candidate with the most votes wins the election and represents the whole community, even if they have failed to win a majority (50%+1) of the votes.

Our research (2016, 2020) shows this type of election disadvantages women - especially women of color. It will take multiple generations for women to reach parity if we keep this antiquated system.

Here is how winner-take-all elections are disproportionately bad for women candidates:

infogram_0_285abe46-c6f4-47d8-9461-97c17d7b229bWinner-take-all System

What We Need: Fair Representation Voting

The alternative is fair representation voting, which combines

Ranked choice voting - voters rank candidates in order of preference.

Multi-winner districts - districts represented by more than one person. 

Fair representation voting is a form of proportional representation with a long history of use in the United States, currently many jurisdictions have adopted the fair representation system for local use. 

Here is how fair representation elections help level the playing field for women candidates:

infogram_0_725aa47a-5826-4b08-8df4-76160f5b2e55Fair Representation Voting

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)

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Under ranked choice voting, voters rank candidates in order of preference. They mark their favorite candidate as first choice and then indicate their second and additional back-up choices in order of preference. Voters may rank as many candidates as they want, knowing that indicating a lower ranked candidate will never hurt a more preferred candidate.

Candidates do best when they attract a strong core of first-choice support while also reaching out for second and even third choices. 

When used as an "instant runoff" to elect a single candidate like a mayor or a governor - as seen above - RCV helps elect a candidate that better reflects the support of a majority of voters. When used as a form of fair representation voting to elect more than one candidate like a city council, state legislature, or even Congress, RCV helps to more fairly represent the full spectrum of voters.

How Does RCV Work? Facts on RCV 2020 Report RCV in Oakland RCV in Cambridge RCV in NYC 

Multi-Winner Districts

The U.S. uses single-winner districts to elect the House of Representatives, which means each congressional district has one Member of Congress. Some state legislatures and city councils use multi-member districts, where multiple people represent the same district. We propose that all legislative bodies adopt multi-member districts to better represent the opinions, diversity, and values of their constituents. 

Compared to winner-take-all elections, ranked choice voting in multi-winner contests allows more diverse groups of voters to elect candidates of choice. This promotes diversity of political viewpoint as well as diversity of candidate background and demographics.

infogram_0_536f6972-961d-4107-adbf-c5a667bb5232MMD Comparison with SMD

Multi-winner districts increase women's representation for two key reasons:

Amy (2002), Zimmerman (1994), and Troustine (2008) find that in the multi-winner environment voters are more likely to vote for male and female candidates to balance their choices, meaning parties have more incentive to run female candidates. This leads to more recruitment and support of female candidates, and therefore more women in office. 

Increasing the Seats in the U.S. House of Representatives

The combined importance of name recognition and money in our current political system results in a nearly insurmountable incumbency advantage. While this seems like a gender-neutral problem on the surface, in reality with the majority of incumbents being men, it has a profound gendered effect. While ranked choice voting and multi-member districts would help to mitigate some of the advantages enjoyed by incumbent officials, increasing the number of seats in the U.S. House of Representative would create more open-seats, which in recent years have seen the highest number of women win. 

The current 435 seats in the House of Representatives, has not changed since 1963. Currently, there is on average one voting representative for every 747,000 constituents; this is one of the highest constituent to parliamentarian ratios in the world. Montana has already surpassed the 1:1million ratio, with 1.05million constituents being represented by one member of the House. 

Increasing the number of seats in the house with help improve women's representation:

Legislation RepresentWomen Supports

Read more about the systems reforms RepresentWomen supports and the Congressional legislation we endorse to ensure more women can run and win elected office. 

infogram_0_6ec5ac3a-7559-40ac-8a98-feb4f4f5aac4RW Digital Briefing Book



What We Can Do: The Fair Representation Act 

The Fair Representation Act (HR 3863) gives voters of all backgrounds and all political stripes the power to elect House Members who reflect their views and will work constructively with others in Congress.

Under the Fair Representation Act, there will be more choices and several winners elected in each district. Congress will remain the same size, but districts will be larger, each electing 3, 4, or 5 winners. Voters will be free to rank their choices without fear of "spoilers." No district will be “red” or “blue.” Every district will fairly reflect the spectrum of voters.

Voters are clamoring for change. The Fair Representation Act is effective, constitutional, and grounded in American traditions. It will ensure that every vote counts, all voices are heard, and everyone has an equal opportunity to serve in elected office. 

Read the Bill  Learn More