Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation: Angela Alsobrooks’ Win Is a Win for Black Women Everywhere; Gender Imbalance in Local Elections

Weekend Reading on Women’s Representation is a compilation of stories about women’s representation in politics, on boards, in sports and entertainment, in judicial offices and in the private sector in the U.S. and around the world—with a little gardening and goodwill mixed in for refreshment!

This week, delve into the persistent gender imbalance in local elections, explore the impact of cumulative voting in elections in Illinois spanning over a century, discover why ranked-choice voting is a logical solution to Maryland’s recent primary with large candidate fields and plurality winners, inclusion of plurality candidates in elections and why ranked-choice voting is a viable solution, and celebrate Angela Alsobrooks for her historic victory—a triumph for all Black women in politics.

Top 500 Most Influential People Shaping Policy

This past week, I was honored to be included in Washingtonian magazine’s list of the “Top 500 Most Influential People Shaping Policy.” I’m humbled by this recognition, and inspired by the incredible partners and allies who share my commitment to achieving a more representative government and a thriving democracy. It was great to celebrate atop the Watergate Hotel on a beautiful evening in Washington, D.C., with RepresentWomen board member Susannah Wellford and the former and current CEOs of FairVote, Rob Richie and Meredith Sumpter.

My husband Rob Richie pictured with FairVote CEO Meredith Sumpter
Cynthia Richie Terrell with Susannah Wellford (pictured on the left), CEO and founder of Running Start and board member for RepresentWomen.
Cover of Washingtonian magazine honoring the Most Influential People Shaping Policy.

Gender Imbalance in Local Elections: Women Still Underrepresented Despite Being Majority Population

Then-Democratic candidate Marilyn Lands walked the streets in the suburbs in Huntsville, Ala., looking to convince voters to support her on March 20, 2024. (Michael S. Williamson / The Washington Post via Getty Images)

An article from Big Issue by Lyanne Nichol sheds light on the persistent gender imbalance in local elections. Only 38 percent of elected candidates are women despite women comprising 51 percent of the population. This imbalance is partly due to women making up just 34 percent of candidates selected by major political parties.

Ultimately, attaining gender balance in politics is crucial for a better democracy. Equality should not be a mere aspiration but a concrete goal to move the country forward. RepresentWomen’s research library delves into viable strategies for increasing women’s representation.

The results are in… and the gender imbalance from the local elections remains… stagnant. The total percentage of women voted in was 38%, and the number of women in the population is 51% – so why on earth are we accepting such inequality in our elected bodies?

Women made up just 34% of candidates selected to stand across the main political parties, which means we have reached a frustrating plateau. We are committed to change, and progress has been made over the last ten years since 50:50 Parliament was established, but it’s too slow. The sense of urgency to reach equal representation seems confined to small circles. The question is, why are we all happily sleepwalking into continued gender inequality? If the Covid-19 inquiry taught us anything, it’s that we need more women in the room, not because there are DE&I targets, but because women’s lived experience is crucial in decision-making. 

One issue that needs to be addressed is the lack of transparency and accountability regarding candidate selections. Gender, ethnicity, and disability aren’t being monitored; we know that only 36% of women are being selected, but we don’t know how many women are putting themselves forward, and we should. To say that you want equality in your political party is one thing – to show how you are working towards it and to put stakes in the ground is another thing entirely. Centenary Action is calling for the enactment of Section 106 [of the Equality Act], which would require political parties to publish diversity data. We both want this to be extended to local authority elections, also.

Illinois’ 110-Year Experiment with Cumulative Voting Shows Benefits of Proportional Representation

Steven Hill’article in Democracy SOS shows the profound impact of proportional representation, highlighting Illinois’ 110-year experience with cumulative voting. A form of proportional representation, cumulative voting allows candidates to win with just 25 percent of the vote in three-seat districts. This approach results in more bipartisan representation, reduced polarization, and better inclusion of women and minorities.

The Illinois story strikes at the very heart of Americans’ notions of “representation.” Millions of “orphaned voters”—Republicans living in Democratic areas, Democrats in Republican areas, and third-party supporters and independents everywhere—usually do not have a voice. But in Illinois under proportional representation, Republican legislators were elected in the blue liberal cities, as were Democrats in the red conservative areas. Independents, moderates, and the wings of the parties had a place at the table; so did women and minorities. In Illinois, purple America had a home.

A federal bill called the Fair Representation Act has been introduced by Rep. Don Beyer and Rep. Jamie Raskin, which would implement proportional representation for electing the US House of Representatives. Instead of cumulative voting, the FRA would use an even better method known as proportional ranked-choice voting (also known as “single transferable vote”). PRCV has all the benefits of cumulative voting, but it also has other desirable features, such as ranked ballots that prevent spoiler candidates, split votes, and wasted votes that can sometimes happen with cumulative voting.

The various 50 US states are often laboratories for innovation and experimentation for each other. The Illinois experience with proportional representation has a lot to teach us as we grapple with the demanding challenges that our failing democracy is facing.

Maryland Primaries See Plurality Winners in Crowded Democratic Races

Ranked-choice voting is another voting method which allows voters to rank their favorite candidates in order of preference.

Last week’s  Maryland primaries featured several “plurality winners,” candidates who won with less than 50 percent of the vote in crowded races. This situation occurred in the Third and Sixth congressional Districts, with winners securing only 35 percent and 39 percent of the vote, respectively, in the Democratic primaries. This means the majority of voters preferred other candidates.

Ranked-choice voting (RCV) is proposed as a solution. RCV allows voters to rank candidates by preference, ensuring winners have majority support. This system can improve campaign quality by encouraging candidates to appeal to broader audiences, find common ground, and reduce negative campaigning.

Ranked Choice Voting Maryland is a movement that aims to have RCV elections statewide. I hope you will support our work for fair elections in my home state!

Rachel Hutchinson from FairVote reports:

Voters across Maryland were flooded with choices yesterday – which wouldn’t have caused problems without single-choice voting. The method often results in plurality winners, hurting parties and democracy alike. In competitive districts like Maryland’s 6th, parties are sending potentially weak candidates to otherwise winnable general elections. Research shows that plurality primary winners tend to perform worse in general elections than candidates who win their primaries with a majority.

Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference to produce a majority-supported winner. This ensures that more voters feel invested in the nominee, setting the nominee up for success in the general election. 

Moreover, single-choice elections often become highly negative because candidates can win with a narrow base instead of campaigning to a wide audience. This dynamic could influence the 6th District contest, where “Democrats have raised worries that negative ads will damage the victor, who will face one of the most competitive general election races in the state.” Research shows that RCV can make campaigns more civil, reducing the number of toxic attack ads we have to watch every election cycle.

Angela Alsobrooks’ Win Is a Win for Black Women Everywhere

Maryland Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate Angela Alsobrooks (second from right) takes a photo with supporters outside a voting location for the state primary election at the Marilyn Praisner Community Recreation Center on May 14, 2024, in Burtonsville, Md. (Andrew Harnik / Getty Images)

In my recent penned op-ed in Ms. magazineI rejoice and celebrate the recent wins of Black women in politics. Angela Alsobrooks‘ victory in the Maryland Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate stands as a momentous milestone for Black women in politics. Despite facing a well-funded male opponent, Alsobrooks’ win not only highlights her electability but shows her clear potential to become one of the few Black women ever to serve in the Senate. 

Check out our brief “Breaking Barriers for Black Women in Politics” to learn more about data-driven strategies that can help Black women get elected. Also, read the latest op-ed from author of the brief, our research associate Marvelous Maeze as she boldly proclaims that it’s time for Black women to reclaim their time and pave the path towards a more inclusive future.

Alsobrooks understands why representation matters.

“It’s hard to represent people who you don’t understand and whose lives you don’t know,” she told The 19th. “I understand the struggles of hard-working families because I grew up in one. How we solve a lot of these issues is borne directly from my personal experience of watching people work hard to make things happen for their families.”  

At RepresentWomen, our work centers around the idea that our government works best when its decision-makers reflect the communities they serve. The reality is that we are making only incremental progress toward this goal. Our annual Gender Parity Index (GPI) was designed to illustrate this while highlighting notable wins. 

Maryland earned a “D” grade and ranked 33rd in the country for women’s political representation, according to our 2023 GPIOver the last 10 years, Maryland has never achieved higher than a “D” in the GPI. Alsobrooks has the potential to change this.

Mark Your Calendars for Upcoming Events

What if We Held an Election and Everyone Came?

Our platform, The Women’s Power Collaborative hosts Lunch and Learns led by members of the collaborative to discuss topics related to strengthening our democracy through women’s representation. Our next Lunch and Learn, hosted by 100% Democracy, is coming next week on Thursday, May 30, at 1 p.m. EST! Gain insights from Raaheela Ahmed on the advantages of universal voting. Allegra Chapman will lead a panel discussion on how systemic strategies and reforms can contribute to enhancing women’s representation and building women’s political power and will feature Washington state Representative Sharlett Mena, Connecticut state Representative Robyn Porter, and co-director of Maine People’s AllianceAmy Halstead

Minority Rule: The Right-Wing Attack on the Will of the People

The Brennan Center for Justice is hosting a virtual discussion next Thursday, May 30, at 3 p.m. EST, featuring Ari Berman as he discusses his latest book, Minority Rule: The Right-Wing Attack on the Will of the People — and the Fight to Resist ItIn this book, Berman navigates the ascent of the anti-democracy movement amidst substantial demographic and political transformations in the nation. Joining Berman will be former West Virginia Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, as they explore how the pro-democracy movement must persevere in the face of regressive reforms.

FairVote Awards

I am excited that Rob Richie and I will be honored, along with democracy champions Rashad Robinson and Eric Liu, at the FairVote Awards in NYC on June 3! I’d love to see you there to celebrate the work of our organizations, RepresentWomen, Color Of Change and Citizen University and all that the democracy community has accomplished. Please use this link to RSVP or let me know if you have questions. Here’s to a #AMorePerfectUnion.

Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution

Cynthia Richie Terrell pictured in between her mother and grandmother.

As we take time to unwind and relax this summer, the RepresentWomen team is thrilled to share our favorite reads as we dive into captivating stories and discover new worlds between the pages! If you are inspired by our staff picks, we’d love to hear what you’re reading this summer. To kick things off, here’s what I’m currently reading.

Kathy Spillar, executive director of the Feminist Majority Foundation and the executive editor of Ms. magazine, and Suvarna Hulawale, director of strategy and learning at FairVote, both suggested I read Eve: How the Female Body Drove 200 Million Years of Human Evolution by Cat Bohannon

I admire Kathy and Suvarna so much that I departed from my long list of fiction titles to dive into this ultimate guide that answers fundamental questions about the evolution of women—I am learning so much! 

Bohannon writes in the introduction:

Eve traces the evolution of women’s bodies, from tits to toes, an dhow that evolutions shapes our lives today. By piecing this evolution together and connecting it to recent discoveries, I hope to provide the latest answer to women’s most basic questions about their bodies. As it turns out, those basic questions are producing some truly exciting science: Why do we menstruate? Why do women live longer? Why are we more likely to get Alzheimer’s? Why do girls score better at e very academic subject until puberty, when suddenly our scores drop through the floor? Is there really such a thing as the ‘Female Brain’?”

Which Woman Would You Want as President?

We’re working on creating a democracy where there are women leaders at every level of government a reality, but it’s fun to imagine how the U.S. would be if we had a woman president in the past. Let us know which historical women leader you would have liked to see in the Oval Office! Vote here.

As Mexico prepares for presidential elections, the nation was saddened by a recent tragic incident at a campaign rally in northern Mexico. Our deepest condolences go out to those who lost loved ones and to all who have been affected by this unforeseen tragedy. They remain in our thoughts during this difficult time.

Up next:

U.S. democracy is at a dangerous inflection point—from the demise of abortion rights, to a lack of pay equity and parental leave, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and attacks on trans health. Left unchecked, these crises will lead to wider gaps in political participation and representation. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Amendment, and centering the stories of those most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we are redoubling our commitment for the next 50 years. In turn, we need your help, Support Ms. today with a donation—any amount that is meaningful to you. For as little as $5 each month, you’ll receive the print magazine along with our e-newsletters, action alerts, and invitations to Ms. Studios events and podcasts. We are grateful for your loyalty and ferocity.


Cynthia Richie Terrell is the founder and executive director of RepresentWomen and a founding board member of the ReflectUS coalition of non-partisan women’s representation organizations. Terrell is an outspoken advocate for innovative rules and systems reforms to advance women’s representation and leadership in the United States. Terrell and her husband Rob Richie helped to found FairVote—a nonpartisan champion of electoral reforms that give voters greater choice, a stronger voice and a truly representative democracy. Terrell has worked on projects related to women's representation, voting system reform and democracy in the United States and abroad.