With record numbers of women running for office at the state level, we’re watching for signs of progress down the ballot.
As the country looks ahead to the midterm elections, a lot of eyes are on the U.S. House and Senate races, watching to see if a coalition of women voters activated by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade will turn 2022 into another “Year of the Woman.”
At Pivotal Ventures, we’ll be watching the national headlines—but also paying attention to the underlying trendlines, especially at the state level, where the record number of women running for office may have long-lasting impact on the face of power in this country.
As part of our work to drive social progress by expanding women’s power and influence, we partner with people and organizations who are leading efforts to build women’s political power. Currently, less than a third of elected officials in the U.S. are women, and women of color are significantly underrepresented at every level of government. Ensuring that women have an equal voice in politics is a critical step on the path to gender equity.
With that in mind, here are some of the things we’ll be watching for as results come in.
Our partners at the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) have created first-of-their-kind databases that track women running for and holding public office. This crucial data helps improve understanding about the challenges that women face when they run for office, as well as the approaches that can help them win.
According to CAWP’s analysis of this year’s primaries, 2022 isn’t a record year for women congressional nominees—but it could set the new record for women elected governor. An unprecedented 25 women are currently running in gubernatorial races: 16 Democrats and nine Republicans. (These include eight incumbents who are up for re-election.)
Among these candidates are several women whose victories could make history: Yolanda Flowers (Alabama), Deidre DeJear (Iowa), and Stacey Abrams (Georgia) all have a chance of being the first Black woman elected governor. Maura Healey (Massachusetts) and Tina Kotek (Oregon) could become the country’s first openly lesbian governors.
“A reflective democracy means that the folks who live in that democracy see themselves in leadership at the same rate,” explains our partner Vote Run Lead. Through a cool data visualization tool, they’re tracking how long it will take for each state legislature to reflect the fact that women are 51 percent of the population.
Many of the policies that shape our day-to-day lives are set at the state level. Yet so far, only one state in the entire country has a female-majority legislature: Nevada. With a record number of women running for state legislature this year, we’ll be watching election results to see which states are getting closer to parity. According to the Gender Parity Index created by our partner Represent Women, eight states (New Mexico, Maine, Nevada, Washington, Michigan, Minnesota, Oregon, and New Hampshire) are critically close to reaching gender balance.
Another sign that our democracy is taking crucial steps toward becoming more reflective: According to the #BlackWomenRun database created by our partners at Higher Heights for America, a record number of Black women candidates (more than 500!) are running for office at the local, state, and federal levels.
Half of the women currently serving in the United States Senate once served in their state legislatures—a reminder that the more women who are elected to state legislatures today, the deeper the bench of candidates to run at the national level tomorrow.
Most of us are familiar with traditional ballots, where voters vote for one candidate in each race. Ranked-choice voting is a different way of voting that allows voters to rank multiple candidates in order of preference. Importantly, it is widely considered to lead to more representative governments.
For example, an analysis by Represent Women showed that ranked-choice voting played a crucial role in electing New York City’s first female-majority city council. Twenty-five of the 31 women now on the council are women of color. And 27 of those women won their primaries through ranked-choice voting. (Another fact worth mentioning: Fifteen of those women attended candidate training through our partners at Ascend Fund.)
More recently, ranked-choice voting helped Mary Peltola become the first woman from Alaska to represent her state in the U.S. House of Representatives. Both Peltola and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski are currently up for re-election. Will ranked-choice voting help them stay in office?
If more voters choose to adopt this way of voting, momentum for this promising reform will build—making it easier for women and people of color to get elected and ultimately benefiting our democracy as a whole.