By Cynthia Richie Terrell on March 18, 2022
- Day One: Fair Elections – Upgrading How We Vote & Finance Campaigns
- Day Two: Fair Access: The Electoral College, Voting Rights & the Legacy of Lani Guinier
- Day Three: Fair Representation: House Expansion, Redistricting, Ranked Choice Voting, & the Fair Representation Act
The final panel was moderated by Reflect Us Coalition CEO Tiffany Gardner, and featured Stephanie Houghton, the organizing director at FairVote Washington; Jaqueline Castaneda, the communications director of the DC Latino Caucus and advisory board member at More Voice DC; Jessica Lieberman, the program officer for American Democracy, Political and Voting Reform at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Sarah Higginbotham, the managing director of United America; and Maria Perez, co-director of Democracy Rising.
Sarah Higginbotham spoke about her roots as an organizer and her hope and optimism for the future of reforms like RCV.
“We're at this incredibly compelling inflection point for the work around ranked choice voting and other structural reforms, and what's probably most compelling to me sort of strategically and politically, is how much progress we've made across a broad range of states.” - Sarah Higginbotham
Jessica Lieberman talked about her work creating the Our Common Purpose report, which details recommendations for building a stronger democracy. She advocated for expanding the House of Representatives by 150 members to increase representation and accountability.
“By bringing 150 new seats into Congress, we would create a lot of opportunities to bring new faces and voices into Congress. As we have talked about earlier today, incumbency advantage is a huge barrier to electing more women and diverse voices to Congress… It also would ensure that we're not losing progress going forward.” - Jessica Lieberman
Stephanie Houghton discussed how her role at FairVote Washington has helped her to hone her messaging surrounding RCV and its benefits, and how she handles conversations with those who disagree.
“It can be a tough conversation, and I think anyone on this call who has tried to have a conversation with a legislator about ranked choice voting has probably come up against the same pushback and it comes from a place where in the back of their minds oftentimes, they are thinking, ‘I'm a really great representative, I don't think I want to change the way that I got here’ … And that's a really sensitive conversation. So, the unsolicited advice I give is, just give space for that and say this isn't something where we’re not going to have democracy. It's still an election, it's just a way for your voters to actually tell you more about what they're feeling… So, I think that there is actually a place for our legislators current and future to learn more from ranked choice voting and to really take a lesson from that.” - Stephanie Houghton
When asked about grappling with the daunting task of fixing so many issues, Maria Perez spoke about the need for grassroots organizing and the constant practice of democracy.
“We need to become a country where everyday citizens and residents are practicing democracy every day. It's kind of like going to the gym, you can't ask people just to show up for election day or run a half marathon without training. We're training every week, every day you put in your little of whatever your practices are. That is the way that we get the masses to whatever it is. It's that civic engagement on a long, sustainable multi-generational term.” - Maria Perez
Finally, Jaqueline Casteneda talked about grassroots operations and the difficulties of navigating voting reforms in Washington, DC.
“Education has really been a key part of that. We know that we have a lot of supporters for ranked choice voting, but we still know that we have a lot of conversations to have with others who are still not on board with thinking about how ranked choice voting will look like in DC, and that's okay. Conversations are a great way to start discussions and I love teaching. I love learning as well, so I am ready for that fight and with the Latino Caucus, that's what we're doing.” - Jaqueline Casteneda
This was an amazing panel discussion preceded by two days of enlightening and inspiring conversations. We at FairVote thank RepresentWomen for organizing this summit and for facilitating dialogues about concrete steps we can take to strengthen our democracy. The women who spoke are all working to create positive and equitable change in our country, and we look forward to working with them on the solutions they discussed.
Around the same time, a sweeping abortion ban went into effect in Texas and inquiries about its correlation to our backsliding democracy were raised. The New York Times was among several news organizations reporting that such a descent is precisely when “curbs on women’s rights tend to accelerate.”
However, there has been notably little discourse about the converse of this proposition: that America’s longstanding and abysmal record on myriad gender equity markers has been the true harbinger for our downgraded status. According to a United Nations report, the trajectory of “de-democratization” is rarely analyzed initially through the distinct lens of gender equity and there are insufficient efforts to systematically examine the current implications.
To be sure, the United States is in fact experiencing an increase in women’s representation. Twenty-seven percent of members of Congress are now women, up 50 percent from a decade ago. On the Supreme Court, women will likely soon account for four out of nine justices, two of whom are women of color. Vice President Kamala Harris is the first woman (and person of color) to serve in the role. At the state level, more than 30 percent of elected executives are women, along with 31 percent of legislators.
But these raw numbers alone are an insufficient measure. Women’s leadership in the United States still lags relative to much of the world. And the figures are a far cry from robust and meaningful representation, especially for women of color. Today there are zero Black women in the Senate, and a Black woman has never served as state governor.
But the case didn’t surprise many women lawmakers or people who track such attacks. They say online and in-person abuse is a daily occurrence for female public officials and candidates, and it happens to women — especially women of color — at a far greater rate than it does men. In recent years, it has seemed to intensify.
Here’s a look at some of the incidents:
BOSTON MAYOR MICHELLE WU
Wu, who has Taiwanese heritage, has faced what the city’s elected officials of color condemned as “relentless threats of violence and hateful attacks” since she took office in November. Protests have been held almost daily outside her home, some starting in the early morning hours, with drums and bullhorns, and what fellow lawmakers described as “openly racist, anti-Asian and sexist rhetoric.”
That day is March 15, the earliest the occasion has ever been marked.
It's an incremental achievement – falling eight days earlier than last year – that was noted on Tuesday by Vice President Kamala Harris, who appeared alongside players of the U.S. national women's soccer team, which recently won a yearslong legal battle for equal working conditions and fair compensation.
"Obviously, you all have been champions in terms of your skill and your dominance in terms of women's soccer but we are here today because you also have been leaders on an issue that affects most women and have affected most women in the workforce, and it's the issue of pay equity," Harris said kicking off the panel.
The soccer team reached a $24 million settlement in its class action equal pay lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation last month.
The pair, who are a couple, created the account last year to use government data on British companies’ gender pay gaps to call out companies tweeting about International Women’s Day.
Fensome, a software developer, built the account as a bot, writing code that leads it to perform the function listed in its Twitter bio: “Employers, if you tweet about International Women’s Day, I’ll retweet your gender pay gap,” it warns.
By the end of the day on Tuesday, @PayGapApp had gone viral, with more than 120,000 followers. It had also sent out hundreds of tweets calling out companies with information about their hourly median gender pay gaps.
Its message is being read as an attempt to regroup in the wake of its election defeat, while representing the sentiments of younger women who have recently joined the party.
Yoon’s plans for abolishing the MOGEF were denounced as being “rooted in exclusion and discrimination toward women” during a meeting of Democratic Party legislators held at the National Assembly Monday for “enacting legislation for livelihoods and reform.”
Lawmaker Park Kwang-on, who heads the National Assembly Legislation and Judiciary Committee, said that Yoon had “cast aside the fundamentals of state management with his attempt to abolish the MOGEF and his statement that he does not intend to consider quotas for women on his transition committee.”
“Respect and consideration for women are a means to unite the public by establishing balance in our society and doing away with deeply rooted discrimination,” he said.
“Presently, Nigeria lags behind African countries like Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Tunisia, Senegal, Uganda and Cape Verde, which have adopted constitutions and other national laws that provide for equal rights and opportunities, including the Special Seats or Proportional Representation System.
In line with its standard-setting role as a leading democracy in Africa, it is time for Nigeria to heed the calls of half of its population and electorate, and to adopt similar measures that will ensure greater representation and participation of women in governance.
The upcoming 2022 local elections provide a vital opportunity to build on these gains. Women’s underrepresentation in leadership positions reflects a combination of the design of the quota system and party nomination behaviour. Averaging across parties, only 6 percent of mayoral candidates were female, and only 3.3 percent of candidates for ward chair were female in 2017. Can this change in 2022? A large number of female politicians now have substantial experience as deputy mayors and ward committee members and are eager to stand for higher positions. In a recent (December 2021) survey conducted by our research team, 63.1 percent of the 678 deputy mayors (out of all 753 deputy mayors in the country) we interviewed expressed their intention to run for mayor in the upcoming local elections.
“As evidenced by the strong bipartisan confirmation vote she received, Shalanda Young is well known to many of us due to her years of experience on the House Appropriations Committee staff,” said Sen. Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who supported Young’s confirmation. She added: “Shalanda is smart, fair, and knowledgeable. I look forward to working closely with her.”
The Biden administration is on track to be the most diverse as promised. In addition to Young, more than a dozen of Biden’s chosen leaders are the first in their community to hold a position, including Kamala Harris, Janet Yellen, Deb Haaland and Katherine Tai. On his first day in office, Biden issued an executive order on advancing racial equity through the federal government and directed the head of OMB — the office Young now formally takes over — to coordinate these efforts in the budget and across agencies.
Young is familiar with the office: She began serving as acting director in March 2021. Her confirmation process began toward the end of last year and took about 110 days — longer than the average time it took previous administrations. It took the Senate 103 days on average to confirm a Biden nominee, 100 for Trump, 80 for Obama and 48 for Bush. Presidents are required to fill about 4,000 politically appointed positions, including more than 1,200 that require confirmation in the Senate. The process entails a formal nomination from the White House, a Senate committee hearing and then a full vote on the Senate floor to formally confirm the nomination. Young is one of nearly 300 positions that have been confirmed thus far, according to Partnership for Public Service’s tracker.