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Weekend Reading on Women's Representation August 11th, 2023

Dear Readers,

This week the RepresentWomen team released the 2023 Gender Parity Index, an annual report outlining the status of women’s representation in the 50 states. Using data from local, state, and national office, the GPI reveals that progress toward a gender-balanced democracy remains slow and uneven across geography, ideology, and race. The United States is only halfway to gender parity, with an average state parity score of 27. At this rate, the nation will not see a gender-balanced democracy for at least another 118 years.

The findings of the 2023 GPI provide ample support for both pipeline initiatives and systems-level strategies that have been proven to increase women’s representation. Implementing reforms such as ranked choice voting makes it possible to achieve gender balance, in politics, in our lifetimes.

A detailed summary of the 2023 GPI is below. Read the full report here to learn more about the status of women’s representation in the United States.

RepresentWomen's 10th Annual Gender Parity Index is Here! 

How does your state rank? 

Here is an excerpt from the executive summary that provides more background on the history and methodology of RepresentWomen's Gender Parity Index:

In August 2013, RepresentWomen launched the Gender Parity Index (GPI) to help researchers and advocates track progress toward gender-balanced governance and identify opportunities for increasing women’s political representation in the U.S. Each year, we assign all 50 states a Gender Parity Score, letter grade, and ranking according to their proximity to parity. One of the key takeaways from this exercise is that progress toward gender balance is slower and less stable than it first appears. 

In the first Gender Parity Index, 40 states earned a “D” grade (< 25.0) or worse (< 10.0); the remaining ten states were split evenly between “Cs” (< 33.0) and “Bs” (< 50.0), and no state achieved an “A” (50.0 and above). Ten years later, Maine and Oregon have both achieved an “A” for the first time, 24 states are split evenly between “Bs” and “Cs,” 23 states have earned a “D,” and Louisiana is the only failing state. 

The 2023 Index reflects recent record-breaking progress for women in the U.S. government, particularly state executives. Following the 2022 elections, 12 states have women governors, breaking the previous record of nine. Correspondingly, six of the top ten states in the 2023 GPI have women governors, including Maine (1st), Oregon (2nd), Michigan (3rd), New Mexico (4th), Iowa (7th), and Massachusetts (9th). 

While it is true that women’s representation has increased, the 2023 GPI shows that women are still underrepresented at every level of government in the U.S., holding just one-third of all elected positions, despite comprising over 50% of the population. Women of color are further underrepresented, holding approximately one-tenth of all elected positions. This year’s GPI further shows that:

  • Record-breaking wins have resulted in incremental gains for women. Headlines that announce record highs for women in politics are often misleading; women remain underrepresented at every level of government. Net gains for women are generally smaller than they appear, slowing progress.
  • Not every state is on an upward trajectory toward parity; some states, such as New Hampshire and Louisiana, have even lost progress over time. 
    • New Hampshire ranked first and achieved an “A” between 2015-2018 and again in 2020; it now ranks 10th with a score of 41/100 (grade: B).
    • Louisiana ranked 28th in the first GPI with a score of 16/100 (grade: D); it now has a score of 9/100 (grade: F) and ranks 50th in the 2023 GPI.
  • Gains for women are concentrated in the Northeast and West Coast, while women’s representation in Midwestern and Southern states lags far behind. 
  • Democratic women are outpacing Republican women in elected office, suggesting that progress toward parity will eventually slow unless a) more Republican women are elected or b) more Democratic women than men are elected.
  • Systemic reform is needed to level the playing field and create more opportunities for women to enter and remain in office. Rather than replace existing candidate-focused strategies, systemic reforms can function in a complementary manner to bring out the best of both strategies.

Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer Broke Barriers as a Woman in Politics. Here's Why She Is Leaving Office.

In an interview for North JerseyAssemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer explains why she is leaving office. Jaffer was the first Muslim woman to serve as mayor in the United States and the first of two Muslims elected to the New Jersey State Legislature. As a woman of color breaking barriers in politics, her decision to not seek re-election speaks to an essential discussion on the mental, emotional, and sometimes physical trauma of serving in public office that puts many women leaders at a significant safety risk.

Jaffer's experience underscores a larger problem of harassment and bigotry that Muslim women in the public eye often face. The Assemblywoman, in her interview, talks about ways to make the journey easier for other women as they run for and serve in office.

Why did you decide to not seek re-election?

Every campaign is a commitment. It is a sacrifice for family. I just decided this was best in terms of being able to focus on my daughter and, you know, not having to subject myself and my family, including my daughter, to the type of harassment I get as a Muslim official, as a woman of color running for office.  

How can we continue to encourage and support women from diverse backgrounds to enter politics?

We do need to keep encouraging women to run. We know they win at same level as men They just don’t run as often. We need to focus on sustaining that engagement and understand the pressure women from diverse backgrounds face, the types of harassment they face and make sure they have support they need. 

We know they are going to get harassment. So maybe there could be team that go through social media and report things and document them so people like myself don’t have to do that, and the toll that it takes on us. Maybe have responses ready for attacks that are based someone’s ethic or religious background, provide that support system. This is something I am really dedicated to working on.I still share the same goals the same passions I've always had. It's just a matter of doing it in a different space and a different role for the time being.

What are your next steps?

I’ve become chair of my local Democratic Party helping local candidates run. I want to be a part of that solution and make sure people from diverse backgrounds don't get burnt out and have the support they need.

New Jersey has a part-time legislature, so I've been continuing my academic work. I teach and conduct research in South Asian studies at Princeton University. I plan to continue to focus on that work and my students."

Kalamazoo, Michigan Approves Ranked Choice Voting for City Commissioner and Mayoral Elections

An article by Katie Sergent reports on a ranked choice voting initiative in Michigan. Kalamazoo has adopted a resolution to implement Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) for mayoral and city commissioner elections. A citizen petition initiated the change, which will be executed once Michigan's Election Law is amended and appropriate voting equipment is obtained. Michigan ranks 3rd in our 2023 Gender Parity Index. At the time of writing the report, five municipalities in Michigan showed interest in ranked choice voting—Kalamazoo will be the first to adopt RCV in the state. RepresentWomen's research has found that RCV helps elect more women, and we will be watching how this impacts women's representation in the 2024 GPI:

"It's been complicated by a couple things, because what helps people trust elections...when it's simple, you understand it. You voted for them, that person won, you can just see that," Mayor Anderson added.

For commissioner positions, voters would rank their candidates in order of preference, but the number of votes needed for commissioner candidates differs from those needed for mayoral candidates, officials said.

While mayoral candidates need to reach a 50% plus one margin, the number of votes required for a commissioner candidate to win would be determined based on an "election threshold."

Any candidate whose total votes surpass the threshold would be hailed the winner, and the second-ranked choice of the winning candidate's surplus votes beyond the threshold would be redistributed to the rest of the candidates, officials said.

Nikki Haley Fights to Stay Competitive in Crowded Republican Primary

A recent NYT article from Jazmine Ulloa analyzes Nikki Haley’s strategy to stay competitive in the 2024 Presidential race.

Former Governor of South Carolina Nikki Haley entered the Republican presidential primary in February 2023. She is currently the only Republican woman running for the highest elected office. If elected, Haley would become the first woman to serve as president of the United States. While Haley's election would be historic, her path to victory is narrow. Haley has struggled to gain public support in a crowded Republican field despite a recent advertising pledge of $13 million from a super PAC. Polls suggest that her campaign may continue to face an uphill battle:

Yet as Ms. Haley tries to occupy a lonely realm between the moderate and far-right wings of her party, her attempts to gain national traction — talking openly about her positions on abortion, taking a hard stance against transgender girls playing in girls’ sports, attacking Vice President Kamala Harris — appear to be falling flat with the Republican base at large.

Polls show Ms. Haley stuck in the low single digits in Iowa and New Hampshire and trailing Mr. Trump and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida in her home state, South Carolina. Nationally, the first New York Times/Siena College poll of the 2024 campaign showed Mr. Trump carrying the support of 54 percent of likely Republican primary voters. Ms. Haley sat in a distant third, tied at 3 percent with former Vice President Mike Pence and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina.

At an event at a vineyard in Hollis, N.H., later that day, with attendees shielded under umbrellas as rain poured from the sky, Ms. Haley expressed optimism, promising to outwork her rivals.

“Republicans have lost the last seven out of eight popular votes for president — that is nothing to be proud of,” she said. “We need a new generational leader.”

Ohio's Rejection of Issue 1 is a Win for Ballot Measures, Including Ranked Choice Voting

It's been a great week watching our allies at Rank the Vote OH celebrate the defeat of Issue 1. Although the majority of media coverage on the #SayNoToIssue1 effort focused on abortion rights, the provision on ballot measures would have an impact on the ranked choice voting movement in Ohio as well. In a recap called four takeaways from Rejection of Issue 1 in the Ohio special election, the Washington Post's Aaron Blake reports:

FiveThirtyEight’s Nathaniel Rakich noted that Republicans in several states in recent years have tried to increase the thresholds to pass ballot measures in the face of popular ballot measures pushed by the left.

Raising the threshold to 60 percent failed last year in both Arkansas (where it got 41 percent of the vote) and South Dakota (where it got just 33 percent). Raising it to 55 percent also failed in South Dakota back in 2018.

There is one state that successfully raised its threshold recently: Arizona in 2022. But the measure was narrowly about ballot measures that raised taxes. And even that seemingly much more attractive idea — who likes raising taxes? — received only 51 percent of the vote.

Perhaps voters don’t like having power taken out of their hands. 

The U.S. Paradox: Leading and Lagging in Global Progress & Gender Parity

Errin Haines' article for the 19th News delves deep into America's standing in global gender equality, pointing out that despite significant strides at home, the U.S. ranks 21st in the Women's Empowerment Index. There are global implications of U.S. decisions, such as the Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization case, which resonated with Liberian officials. They argued that in developed democracies, most people believe that a woman's right to her body is private and should not be disrupted by the State or institutions. 

VP Kamala Harris consistently emphasizes these ties between democracy and women's empowerment domestically and abroad. Additionally, while President Biden has enacted measures such as establishing a Gender Policy Council, this piece questions progress toward gender equality in the United States:

These moments[social wins for women] are on a continuum in the fight for gender equality, stretching back to Alice Paul's fight for the ERA, which began just three years after she'd helped win passage of the 19th Amendment. While the law secured the right for women, the Black women who fought alongside them for their access to the franchise were largely locked out under Jim Crow America. They, along with Latinas, Asian Americans, and Native women, would have to fight for several more decades to secure the ballot. 

Women were excluded from our founding documents, but the push for gender equality has been taken up by successive generations of women — and momentum is building again.

A bouquet from my garden, painted by Melanie Humble.

That’s all for this week! Enjoy your weekend.

Cynthia Richie Terrell 

P.S. During a press conference for the 2023 Gender Parity Index, we asked attendees what they predicted would be the highest-ranking state. Attendees were asked to rank their predictions from what state was most likely and least likely to take the number 1 spot.

The winner was New Mexico.

Although New Mexico was the highest-ranking state in 2022, Maine comes out on top in this year's rankings.

The rankings of the GPI change every year; what stays the same is the tireless efforts of RepresentWomen’s terrific Research Team. Thank you to our Research Director, Courtney Lamendola, and our Research Associates, Steph Scgalia and Marvelous Maeze, for bringing our most extensive body of research to life!

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