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We Need an Act of Congress to Get More Women In Congress

We Need an Act of Congress to Get More Women In Congress

One of the big headlines for the 2012 elections was the historic number of women elected to state and national offices. New Hampshire became the first state to elect an all women congressional delegation and a woman governor. The U.S. House of Representatives has 79 women and the Senate has reached a historic level with 20 women representing 18 states, with California and New Hampshire each having two women senators.

In addition to New Hampshire, four other states have governors that are women. Women also make up 24 percent of the more than 7,300 state legislators in the country. Most of these women represent the two major political parties, with most from the Democratic party. Republicans make up four of the five women governors.

While these accomplishments are notable, the number of women representatives at all levels of government is low considering women make up more than half the population. The United States currently ranks 96th in the world for the percentage of women in national government. Rwanda is the leader and the first to achieve a woman majority (63.8 percent in the lower house, 38.5 percent in the upper). In spite of the great strides made in the number of women in the U.S. Congress, our less than 20 percent representation lags behind the international average of 21 percent.

Statistics show that an increase in women representatives shows a greater focus on policies that affect everyone. Inevitably, “women” issues such as reproductive rights and child care are put to the forefront when more women are elected. However, more legislation is introduced regarding economic policy, education, civil rights and the environment when women have a larger presence. There is also a substantial improvement in economic performance in countries where women hold key national leadership positions.

In America, it’s not for a lack of trying. Many organizations have been working tirelessly for years to recruit, train and elect more women. Emily’s List, whose focus is electing pro-choice women to congress and governor, has a Political Opportunity Program which provides guides and training to help qualified Democratic women run for office. The Susan B. Anthony List’s mission is to support anti-choice women, though they focus their training more on advocacy than on candidate training. These organizations, and others like the National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority, are also working hard to fund women candidates.

The problem lies within our electoral system.

The key difference between our country and the rest of the world can be found in the use of proportional representation, also called “fair representation,” electoral systems. These countries use multi-seat, also known as multi-member, districts. They are made up of “super districts” which have several representatives. If a district has five seats, the votes are allocated based on a percentages. The five candidates receiving the most votes would be the representatives.

The countries using proportional representation elect a higher number of women and minority candidates. They also have multi-party representation. Many of these groups received votes well under the fifty percent mark, allowing for a steady level of fair representation in their government.  The political parties also make a conscious effort to include women candidates. Many require a certain percentage of the candidates to be women – some requiring at least half. Competition also increases the ranks. If a party seems to be consistently securing seats with women candidates, it can spur others to recruit more for their party.

We used to do this in United States.

Prior to 1842, the majority of states were using at-large elections to elect their House members. At the time it was believed that such a system would effectively translate the state’s representation to the national level, and balance the power in both chambers for small states. Of course in the 19th century, representation meant white males.

As minority parties (and, later, candidates) began to enter the system, more states abandoned multi-member districts and at-large Congressional elections for the House to marginalize their effectiveness. By the early sixties, most states had converted to smaller single-member districts, with the 88th Congress (1962-1963) being the last to have a large number of House members elected from MMD districts. In 1967, spurred by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and fearing an increase in minority candidates, Congress passed the Uniform Congressional District Act, which required the use of single-member districts in all states with two or more representatives.

That law remains in effect today.

Representation 2020 is a project of FairVote dedicated to raising awareness of the underrepresentation of women in government and to increase their numbers. August 18, 2020 will be the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. They estimate that at the current rate of progress, it will take 500 years to reach gender parity in government. They are trying to speed up the process by focusing on some key reforms.

The organization is focusing on leadership in both parties to focus on recruiting and nominating more women candidates. They also are promoting “gender conscious” legislative processes that are not biased against women. This includes increasing the number of Women Caucuses in the state legislatures and appointing more women to leadership positions on committees. Understanding that even in government, women still bear the bulk of the childcare responsibilities, the group also wants an improvement in procedural practices that would benefit legislators with children, such as limiting floor debates and votes to certain times of the day.

They are also focusing on the key element to increase representation – multi-member districts. Currently, ten states still use multi-member districts, at least in part, and it is no coincidence that these also represent the states with the highest number of women legislators. Vermont and Colorado rank the highest, with women making up 41 percent of the legislature.

This isn’t about gerrymandering, which is a political tool used to create maps which group like minded voters together. It’s the simple fact that in America we limit our choices to just one or two candidates, with the winner requiring more than 50 percent of the vote. While maps would need to be redrawn, we would have the same number of representatives. However, more candidates could participate, more people would be voting, and votes would have more of an impact because they would be allocated on a percentage.

There is no Constitutional prohibition to having multi-member districts. While it mandates districts, it does not mandate how those districts are configured. The only prohibition to doing so on a national level is the Uniform Congressional District Act of 1967. All that is needed is the majority old, white, male Congress to repeal the law to make it happen.

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71 comments

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4:56AM PDT on Apr 2, 2014

ty

4:53PM PDT on Apr 1, 2014

An email from Emily's List sent out on March 31, 2014, entitled "Making Incredible Strides Since 1985" reports:

1986: Barbara Mikulski

1992: Patty Murray, Barbara Mikulski, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Carol Mosely Braun

2012: Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren, Debbie Stabenow, Amy Klobuchar, Claire McCaskill, Kirsten Gillibrand, Patty Murray, Jeanne Shaheen, Mazie Hirono, Maria Cantwell, Barbara Mikulski, Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Kay Hagan

12:34PM PDT on Mar 31, 2014

tks

7:32AM PDT on Mar 31, 2014

Political Opportunity Program which provides guides and training to help qualified pro-choice Democratic women run for office. The Susan B. Anthony List’s mission is to support anti-choice women. - Being too politically obvious and these affective schizoid agendas keep voters wary of women politicians.

8:22AM PDT on Mar 30, 2014

We now have a conservative faction in the Repuplican party fighting for party control against the neocon establisement.
Why is there not a progressive faction fighting for control of the Democrat party?
We have had 5 years of the big government Democrats with a lot of talk but no real action for progress. The economy is now in worse shape thanks to the inflatinary polices of the FED, Whitehouse and Congress. Bubbles are appearing everywhere yet they stick to the same failed course.
What women will challenge them? There is some hope in Elizabeth Warren, are there any others emerging?

7:56AM PDT on Mar 30, 2014

What difference does gender make if we continue to elect the lesser of two evils? We need to end the 2 party rule and elect inteligent representatives that wull put the country above their career and party. They need to understand economics,respect for liberty and the Constitution.
We the people also need to understand these things which are no longer taught in schools. The average American doesn't even know the cause of inflation, what the FED is or what our dollar is and was before 1971.

3:10AM PDT on Mar 30, 2014

ty

6:16AM PDT on Mar 29, 2014

Congress, the Labour Party, conservatives, democrats repubs are all old white and grey males. And look at the wonderful job they've done! There's wars all over and women are 3rd class citizens. Hell we need change! We need a new world order where women have at least 50 percent of the power! But real balance would only be achieved if 99% of politicos were women for the next 500 or so years! And I really believe they would do a better job than all us posturing violent men!

9:18PM PDT on Mar 28, 2014

An Act of congress has nothing to do with getting someone like women elected to congress. If it has then we have cause for concern over just who chooses our representatives in government. More women will be elected when its shown that they actually do something for humanity more than the men at this point in time. At the moment the women are failing to have a positive effect on the congressmen they are married to, so i cannot see electing them do anything better.

8:49PM PDT on Mar 28, 2014

Well, that's one of the problems---the majority of Congress is old, white and male, not to mention corrupt and out of touch with reality. Another problem is that we have a US electorate that needs to be far more intelligent and engaged in politics than it is. Good luck with solving either one of these problems in a manner timely enough to save this country however.

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