Weekend Reading on Women's Representation September 2, 2022

By Cynthia Richie Terrell on September 02, 2022

 

Dear readers,

Happy Friday! We hope you have been having a lovely summer and staying cool. I'm not sure about you, but I was waiting anxiously on Wednesday night for Alaska's ranked-choice voting election results to come in! It's been so encouraging to see how many Alaskans found it was easy to use ranked choice voting and great to see the state elect its first woman to the House of Representatives - thanks in part to RCV. More on that below. Here is this week's run down on women's representation.

Ranked Choice Voting Expanding Nationally

Women Win - RepresentWomen

Painting by RepresentWomen's resident artist, Melanie Humble 

Editor in Chief of the Georgetown Public Policy Review and former RepresentWomen Research Associate Alisha Saxena highlighted this week the growing adoption of ranked choice voting across the nation, with states like Maine and Alaska using them for their upcoming federal elections in 2024:

Under our current winner-takes-all system, American voters often feel discouraged from voting due to candidate selection and campaigning-style issues, two problem areas which RCV clearly addresses. In winner-takes-all, or first-past-the-post (FPTP), preliminary rounds and restrictive ballot access laws limit the selection of candidates. Similarly, in FPTP, the presence of one vote per voter increases negative campaigning and furthers polarization...

The voter ranking process is no different from rankings we do in our daily lives, like ranking our favorite sports teams. Over 90% of voters in New York City, Maine, and Minneapolis reported that RCV was simple and that they had positive experiences with the process. Clearly, voter confusion is not a viable argument for restricting nationwide RCV implementation.

How does RCV address candidate selection and campaigning-style issues from FPTP? First, voters are more likely to feel represented by a candidate due to lower entry barriers, which can support higher voter turnout and satisfaction. Second, voters who are split between multiple candidates no longer have to choose just one person which also promotes voter satisfaction. Third, voters in swing states are not pressured to strategically vote for popular candidates and are not blamed for “wasting their vote” if they vote for another candidate. Fourth, negative campaigning is reduced, and is replaced with coalition building amongst candidates. Fifth, the need for primary and runoff elections is eliminated , which helps governments save substantial amounts of money. Finally, RCV promotes majority rule by ensuring that the elected candidate receives at least 50% of constituent votes.

 

Montgomery County (MD) Council to Become Majority Women

Democratic nominees to the Montgomery County Council — who will almost certainly win election in November — speak at a Women’s Equality Day roundtable last week. From left, they are: Kristin Mink, Laurie-Anne Sayles, Natali Fani-González, Marilyn Balcombe, Kate Stewart and Dawn Luedtke. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

In Montgomery County (MD), women are poised to become the majority on the county council if they win their races come November. The council has expanded for a total of 11 seats and most candidates made use of the county's public financing system. Though this would be an important milestone, it does not come without challenges throughout the process:

...Balcombe and the other women who won in the Democratic primary said the political playing field for women can still be unfair.

“I felt like I had to continually convince people of my qualifications. Even though I have a long list of accomplishments and credentials, I continually have to convince people that I’m the real deal,” Balcombe said...

Sayles talked about the pressure on women candidates to present themselves ultra-put-together at all times — on top of the typical politicking and campaigning.

“We had to ensure that our message resonated with the people,” Sayles said. “A lot of people assume that just because we’re women we’re going to focus on so-called ‘women’s issues,’ and so I always fight back and say ‘Well, what are men’s issues?’”

Stewart, who has been mayor of Takoma Park since 2015, said during this, her fifth run for public office, she still faces some of the same questions she did the first time around.

Even though her children are in college, she was still asked on the campaign trail this year how she would balance caring for them and county council...

Mink, who could become the first Asian American elected to the Montgomery County Council, said she received a graphic death threat not long after launching her campaign...

“This is an issue that we have to consider when we decide whether to get in the race,” Mink said. “Which means it’s a barrier to other women who are considering running for elected office.”

Dobbs Decision Motivates Women to Register to Vote

With the end of Roe, women have not been silent. The proportion of newly registered voters that are women has skyrocketed in several states. A New York Times Upshot analysis of 10 states showed that on “On average in the month after Dobbs, 55 percent of newly registered voters in those states were women, according to the analysis, up from just under 50 percent before the decision was leaked in early May.” In Kansas, though, the numbers were much more stark. 

In the week after the court’s decision, more than 70 percent of newly registered voters in Kansas were women, according to an analysis of the state’s registered voter list. An unusually high level of new female registrants persisted all the way until the Kansas primary this month, when a strong Democratic turnout helped defeat a referendum that would have effectively ended abortion rights in the state...

The increase offers rare concrete evidence that the Supreme Court’s decision has galvanized female voters, though the data gives little indication of whether the shift will be large enough, broad enough or persistent enough to affect the outcome of the midterm elections in November. The increase in registration has already begun to fade in most states.

Of course, registration does not directly translate into votes and continuing to encourage women to make their voices heard at the ballot box is of utmost importance. Nevertheless, this analysis shows that abortion can and will turn out women voters, who rightly believe women’s equality is at stake.

Women are Crucial to Resistance & Bear the Brunt of the Conflict in Ukraine

In Ukraine, women remain simultaneously key to Ukraine’s resistance, while bearing the brunt of the war. Ukrainian women are taking on new roles such as demining, which until recently was on a list of jobs that women were not permitted to hold. 

Women have become an omnipresent force in Ukraine’s war six months in as they confront long-held stereotypes about their role in the country’s post-Soviet society.

They are increasingly joining the military, including in combat positions, and spearheading volunteer and fund-raising efforts. And with men still making up a majority of combatants, women are taking on extra roles in civilian life, running businesses in addition to looking after their families...

“The perception of women, in general, has been very paternalistic,” said Anna Kvit, a Ukrainian sociologist who specializes in gender studies. “With this war that escalated in 2022, the agency of women not only increased, but it also became more visible.”

Until 2018, women had a different legal status than men in the military, and the critical work women engage in often goes unacknowledged. Women in Ukraine are fighting for their country, equal status, and their lives. 

As outlined in RepresentWomen’s 2021 Post-Soviet Brief, Ukraine does have gender-quotas regarding representation in government, but these are not enforced and political parties lack incentives to use them. Furthermore, women are represented in government, but are not promoted at the same rates as men, and decisions both military and otherwise are largely made by men. Autocracy, patriarchy, gender-based violence, and misogyny limit women's involvement both in civil society and in politics, showing that it is not just rules that are needed. Implementation of these rules and recognition of the crucial role women play is key. 

Mary Peltola Becomes First Alaska Native in Congress in State's First Use of Ranked Choice Voting

The votes for Alaska's special election after adopting ranked-choice voting in 2020 are in and Democrat Mary Peltola has been declared the winner. President and CEO of FairVote Rob Richie highlighted how not only was voter turnout one of the highest Alaska has ever had, a vast majority of voters also found using RCV to be simple. The 19th News reported on how Peltola, a Democrat, was able to win in a traditionally Republican state:

Despite the odds, Peltola’s ability to connect with voters on local issues, in addition to the state’s new ranked-choice voting system, helped buoy the Democrat to a historic victory Wednesday. She is poised to be the first Alaska Native to sit in Congress and will serve the remaining four months of late Republican Rep. Don Young’s term, until January. Young died in March after holding the state’s lone House seat for 49 years.

This summer’s special election is not the end, however. Peltola and Palin are on the ballot again in the November general election, along with Nick Begich, a Republican with a long family history in Alaskan politics. The winner in that election, which like the special will be determined by ballots that let voters rank candidates, will serve a two-year term in the House beginning in January...

Advocates of nonpartisan ranked-choice voting argue it gives voters more say in which candidate is elected and more viability to candidates who are women, people of color and those outside the two-party binary. As a Democrat in a traditionally Republican state, Peltola is one such example. 

Alaska received a "D" on RepresentWomen's Gender Parity Index - Mary Peltola is the first woman elected to the House of Representatives from Alaska. Her win in the special election will increase Alaska's score.

My grandfather loved these Japanese Lantern blossoms, a sure sign that autumn is around the corner.

That's it for this week, folks! Thank you as always for reading, we appreciate your continued engagement and support,

Cynthia

P.S. If you're looking for an interesting read on the experience on social media for minority candidates running for Congress, check out the Public Figures, Public Rage: Candidate Abuse on Social Media report! Thanks to She Should Run for the recommendation during their Navigating Social Media Webinar last week!