Our nation’s 100 largest cities have a combined population of more than 61 million, which represents nearly a fifth of all Americans. Representation 2020’s research into representation of women in these city elections has striking implications for the impact of electoral structure on the likelihood of women running and winning. Here are our initial findings.
There also is a striking difference in measuring how many residents have at least one female representative. In no city with only district elections does every resident have a female representative on council. But in 44 of the 47 cities with at-large seats, every resident has at least one woman representative. We will be studying whether this increases the chances of women winning citywide for mayor.
Relating to choice of electoral systems, four of these 100 cities elect their mayor and councils with ranked choice voting (RCV) in one election without a primary or runoff: Minneapolis (MN), Oakland (CA), San Francisco (CA), and St. Paul (MN). Ranked choice voting creates more incentives for candidates to run positive campaigns, rewards grassroots politics and reduces the impact of money in the campaign process by shortening the campaign season and mitigating the impact of negative campaign ads.
Minneapolis and Oakland have now held open seat mayoral elections with ranked choice voting, and in both cases female candidates won despite being heavily outspent by well-connected male candidates. Women also hold five of eight city council seats in Oakland, which puts the city second in the nation in women’s representation on city councils in the 100 biggest cities, and Minneapolis also ranks highly at 16th. San Francisco ranks 38th for women’s representation while also having people of color hold nine of 11 seats, nearly double their share before RCV was implemented. This November St. Paul will elect the remaining half of it city council with RCV for the first time and currently ranks 64th in women’s representation.
For advocates of equitable representation of women, these findings show the importance of studying the impact of election structure and voting rules. For more information, contact Representation 2020 at FairVote, (301) 270-4616.
Our special thanks to summer intern Duncan Hosie for conducting this research.