Women Winning

Electoral Reforms Drive Change

Our mission is to reform the institutions and structures holding women back from getting involved in politics. Recruiting, training, and funding women candidates will be more effective once our electoral systems stop systemically disadvantaging women.

Below are suggestions on how to dismantle these barriers for women candidates.

Click on a topic to begin.

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 Mexico and Sweden, have embraced contemporary voting techniques that improve representation, the U.S. system is past due for modernization.

Read 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_winner_take_all_issuesWinner-take-all Issues//e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?t5Mtext/javascript

What We Need: Fair Representation Voting

The alternative is fair representation voting, which represents communities proportionally through:

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

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

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

infogram_0_fair_rep_voting_for_womenFair Rep Voting for Women//e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?qattext/javascript

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)

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 in Different Elections? Read Our Report on RCV 

Multi-Member 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-member 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 SMDhttps://e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?YXqtext/javascript

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

  • Voters are more likely to balance their ballots.
  • Political parties seek to appeal to as many voters as they can, by recruiting more women and people of color to run.

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:

  • Parties are more likely to commit to improving gender parity, if they can do so without running new, more diverse candidates against incumbents.
  • Women have a higher chance of winning in open-seat elections, than running as challengers.

What We Can Do: The Fair Representation Act 

The Fair Representation Act (HR 4000) 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 

Fair Representation Voting in Local Elections

Cities and counties across the U.S. have adopted fair representation voting techniques in order to improve their electoral process, and it has led to increased voter engagement. A report co-authored by FairVote and the New America Foundation found that racial minority populations prefer ranked choice voting and find it easy to use, and that ranked choice voting increased turnout by 2.7 times in San Francisco.

Data on U.S. municipalities using RCV 

Executive Positions

Mayors, City Managers

While the ideal voting system to elect women is ranked choice voting with multi-member districts, this is not possible for executive positions that only have one winner, such as mayor and city manager. For these elections, it is still important that communities use ranked choice voting because it can promote the representation of historically under-represented groups like women and racial and ethnic minorities.

This update is necessary because women are severely underrepresented at the mayoral level. Of the 100 largest cities in the U.S., women serve as mayors in only 20. However, in the 13 cities using RCV to elect their mayors, women serve in six. 

infogram_0_8f67be2d-461a-4093-ab30-fb0cff6a9812Women Mayors - RCV v. Top 100 https://e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?3rstext/javascript

Legislative Bodies

City Councils, County Councils, School Boards, etc.

Some city councils and school boards use single winner districts, where one person represents all constituents in a district. Others use two-member or 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-member 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.

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

  • Voters tend to balance their tickets
  • Political parties seek to appeal to as many voters as they can

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.

Political parties are less likely to heavily recruit and campaign for local elections as opposed to state and federal elections, but voters are more likely to balance their ticket and vote for a woman or person of color for a multi-member district at any level of government.

Current representation supports this research: Among the largest 100 cities in the United States, the average percentage of women on city councils with only at-large seats is 41% while the average percentage of women on city councils with only single member district seats is 28%.

infogram_0_9c0550f9-0e2f-4f2d-819c-4550518bbc25Rep2020 At-large vs. Single Winner Women's Representation//e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?PfWtext/javascript

 

Fair Representation Voting in State Elections

State Executives

Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, etc.

Women serve as governors in only nine states (3 Republicans and 6 Democrats), making it one of the most underrepresented positions. Only 44 women have ever served as governor of a state, and 20 states have never had a woman governor. Ninety of the 311 elected statewide executive positions (28.9%) are currently filled by women.

Only two women of color have ever served as governor of a state, including Susana Martinez (R-NM) who served from 2011-2019, and Nikki Haley (R-SC) who served from 2011-2017. Only 2.2 percent of all elected statewide executive offices are filled by women of color.

Ranked choice voting would help to represent states more accurately and to dismantle the overwhelming incumbent advantage that puts women on an unequal playing field.

State Legislatures

Some states have incorporated multi-member districts into their state legislatures, and RepresentWomen believes every state should move in this direction. When districts are represented by more that one person, constituents are more likely to have representation for their divergent views, and elected officials are more likely to come from diverse backgrounds and have diverse views, better reflecting the American people. This is particularly true when ranked choice voting is combined with multi-winner districts.

Every year, RepresentWomen grades and ranks all 50 states for gender parity at the local, state and national levels. To see how each state ranked view the map below:

infogram_0_03341ee5-1020-43d8-9c0c-e7b3b394e05dGPI 2019 Interactive Maphttps://e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?GeItext/javascript

Here is the ranking of all U.S. states based on women's representation in their state legislature:

infogram_0_state_leg_rankingsState Leg Rankingshttps://e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?aT3text/javascript

 

Fair Representation Voting in Federal Elections

Other countries provide a model for how to elect more women

The U.S. ranks behind many countries in terms of women's representation in elected office. What do these countries have in common? Most have adopted systems strategies to improve women's representation, including some form of fair representation voting and/or quota.

For example, the Australian parliament contains two chambers, the Senate and the House of Representatives - just like in the U.S. Voters elect the Senate through a form of proportional representation, while the House uses a winner-take-all system.

The graph below shows the stark difference in women's representation between the two chambers and their different electoral structures. The graph also shows the U.S. House of Representatives, which has consistently lagged behind the proportionally represented Australian Senate for over 70 years.

infogram_0_copy_women_in_australian_congressCopy: Women in Australian Congress//e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?Cw0text/javascript

To learn more about the intentional electoral actions taken around the world see our international dashboard below:

infogram_0_02d14ad5-03ff-4730-93c5-9432ab0bdda8International Data Dashboardhttps://e.infogram.com/js/dist/embed.js?nngtext/javascript

Africa Asia Europe North America South America Oceania 

How can the U.S. get back on track? The Fair Representation Act

The Fair Representation Act, introduced in Congress June 2017, would create multi-member congressional districts and implement ranked choice voting for congressional elections - all across the country.

This bill would restructure the House of Representatives so it could accurately reflect and represent the people of the U.S.

Learn more about the Fair Representation Act