The nation may soon wake up to its first woman president and a record number of women senators, but down ballot, the news is not good for women in elected office.
At least 44 of our 50 governors will be men next year, and the U.S. standing among all nations for representation of women has declined from 44th in 1995 to 96th in 2016.
In Pennsylvania, very little progress has been made despite political party policies aimed at achieving gender parity.
The Keystone State ranked 49th in the nation in 1993 for gender parity, according to Representation2020’s Gender Parity Index. The index measures progress by tracking the number and percentages of women elected to local, state, statewide and federal office. A gender parity score of 50 means there are an equal number of men and women in elected positions in government.
Pennsylvania’s current score is 9.6 — which means it has improved all the way to 46th in the nation since 1993.
Despite terrific efforts by a number of groups to recruit and train women to run in Pennsylvania, there now are no women serving in statewide office. In fact, no woman has ever been elected to the U.S. Senate from Pennsylvania and only seven have been elected to the House — three of whom won special elections to replace husbands who died in office.
Only four women have ever been elected state treasurer and no woman has been elected governor. At the moment, there are no women representing Pennsylvania in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In the state Legislature, women’s share of seats is now 18 percent, up from 10 percent in 1993. While Pennsylvania’s increase of 8 percentage points over the past 20 years is higher than the national average (3.2 points), the state still trails behind the national average by more than 6 points. Just seven of Pennsylvania’s 36 cities with populations of more than 30,000 have women mayors.
Katie McGinty is running a strong race for the U.S. Senate this year against incumbent Pat Toomey, but FairVote’s Monopoly Politics analysis, which has near-perfect accuracy in forecasting congressional winners, predicts men will win every Pennsylvania U.S. House seat this year. Christina Hartman, who is running for an open seat in District 16 just west of Philadelphia, seems the only one with a shot: Her race is considered a toss-up.
Representation2020’s research shows that structural reforms are essential to make a clear and lasting impact on women’s electoral success.
First, we need to improve recruitment. Better recruitment entails challenging the institutions that influence who runs for office — such as political action committees, donors and political parties — to set targets for the number of women candidates they recruit and support. These voluntary targets mimic the quotas used in more than 100 nations to get more women elected to office and are similar to widely accepted gender-balance practices in other fields, such as entertainment and athletics.
Second, we need fair voting systems that give people the power to choose their representation. Fair voting combines multi-winner districts with ranked choice voting.
Multi-winner districts (where more than one elected representative serves a jurisdiction) have a history of electing more women. Ranked-choice voting allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference. Like-minded voters are able to support the candidates they like the best without fear their vote will help the candidate they like the least. This creates openings for women, people of color and all parties in what have been one-party strongholds. Such systems are in use today across the country and can be employed at the local, state and federal level without amending the U.S. Constitution.
Third, we need to promote better internal legislative practices for collaborative policymaking. Improved practices can help women — and men — juggle the demands of family and elected office. Tailored to the level of the office, changes include better on-site child care, paid leave and virtual or proxy voting. Leadership selection should be based on merit as well as intentional efforts to elevate women.
We have strong precedents for such changes. Title IX leveled the playing field for girls and women in education and athletics, while the Voting Rights Act addressed electoral practices that disadvantaged people of color. Republicans nearly 100 years ago led the way to enact gender quotas for their state and national party committees as well as convention delegates from many states, with the Democrats eventually following suit. The common thread is that inequality has been successfully addressed by changing rules and laws — not by just expecting individuals to change.
Pennsylvania can elect more women to every level of office with innovative strategies that challenge the status quo and bring new voices to the table.
Cynthia Terrell is program director for Representation2020, a project to increase gender parity in elected office.