Almost exactly 100 years ago, the ratification of the 19th amendment granted women the unabridged right to vote in American elections.
As we approach that August 18 milestone, we recognize how far our country has come since that victory, but also, soberingly, how far we have yet to go. Despite major progress in female representation in government (including three female supreme court justices, a record number of congresswomen elected in 2018, and the first female major party nominee in 2016), a harsh reality still confronts this nation: despite making up 51 percent of the population; women only comprise 25 percent of the U.S. Senate; 23 percent of the U.S. House of Representatives; 29 percent of statewide elected executives; 29 percent of state legislative seats; and 22 percent of mayors in cities with populations over 30,000.
It is clear that we need systemic change to address these obvious inequities. Fortunately, RepresentWomen—an organization founded with the purpose of advancing reforms that break down barriers to ensure more women can run, win, serve, and lead—has a solution: ranked choice voting (RCV).
RepresentWomen’s recently-published landmark report, titled “In Ranked Choice Elections, Women Win, shines light on five major ways in which RCV—as opposed to America’s predominant election method, single-winner plurality voting—can help elect more women at all levels of government:
- Eliminating vote splitting and spoilers. In a ranked choice election, multiple women can run without having to worry about spoiling the election. In a ranked choice election, there are fewer incentives for gatekeepers, or party leaders, to discourage women and people of color from running, and fewer reasons for would-be candidates to refrain from running in the first place.
- Incentivizing positive campaigning. RCV elections are more civil because candidates have an incentive to find common ground with one another as they seek support from their competitors' supporters. RCV encourages coalition-building and grassroots community campaigning, both of which tend to focus on the positives and similarities between candidates. Anecdotal evidence suggests that women are more likely to run in a positive campaign environment and are more comfortable asking voters to rank them as their second or third choice.
- Rewarding issue-focused campaigns. Rather than spend time and money on attack ads, candidates in ranked choice voting elections can focus on leading more substantive, issue-focused campaigns. Such campaigns open up time for civil debates regarding policy and constituency-specific issues, helping voters get a better idea of who they want to vote for and providing a better platform for women candidates.
- Providing more affordable elections. RCV elections eliminate the need for voters to return to the voting booth for a runoff election. Because this consolidates the election season, cities and candidates save money. Ranked choice elections also lower the cost of running for candidates; this can be particularly important for women candidates who are running for local-level positions for the first time.
- Ensuring representative outcomes. Overall, RCV ensures that candidates in single-winner elections win with a true majority, rather than a plurality of the vote. Elected officials -- especially those who are considered "nontraditional" leaders -- govern better when they have the mandate to lead.
Indeed, the report finds that, over the last decade (2010-2019), women have won 45 percent of all municipal ranked choice elections. As of April 2020, nearly half of all mayors (46 percent) and 49 percent of all city council seats decided by RCV are held by women. It is clear, then, that, if women are to achieve proper representation in American government, RCV must be part of the solution.