Women fill more Ohio elected offices, disparity persists

By: Julia Hall — Staff Writer

Amidst the national debates amongst the presidential candidates, a question outside of policy and quibbling has appeared: Are women being represented sufficiently in elected offices?

With two prominent female presidential candidates, Carly Fiorina and Hillary Clinton, our nation cannot ignore the issues revolving around this question.

Even though women’s presence in elected office remains miniscule, there has been slow but definite progress. Over the last thirty years, the number of women in elected office in Ohio has increased.

In that time period, the number of women elected to the Ohio House of Representatives changed from 20 to 84, resulting in a 19 percent increase, and the women elected to the Ohio Senate has increased from one to 20, a 20 percent increase, according to former Ohio Gov. and current UD professor Bob Taft.

“The majority of the seven members on the Ohio Supreme Court are women,” Taft said. “I think we are seeing a lot of movement on the courts.”

“Maureen O’Connor, who ran with me for lieutenant governor when I was elected governor back in 1998, had established herself in her career,” Taft said of the current chief justice of the Ohio Supreme Court. “[She] obviously went to law school, worked in the county prosecutor’s office, ran and was elected for county prosecutor.”

In addition to his praise of O’Connor, Taft commented more generally on women’s elected positions: “I was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives back in 1977, and there were only a handful of women in the House or Senate then. There may have been one woman in the Ohio Senate when I was there, and, now, there are seven women in the Ohio Senate. I still think there is a gender disparity between elected positions, but I really believe that in the last 30 years, women have been on the rise.”

Haley Roach, a double major in political science and psychology, is the president of Phi Alpha Delta, the law fraternity on campus. In her elected leadership position, she has confronted the challenges of the role for two semesters.

“I don’t think it’s ‘can a woman run?’” Roach said. “No, I think we are way past that. I think that it is once you get in office that you run into the glass ceiling, which makes it harder for women to succeed.”

Taft agreed with Roach on the point that women do not necessarily have a disadvantage in running for office.

“The political analysts, experts, really believe that [when] running for an office like the Ohio Supreme Court, there is an advantage to be a woman in terms of poll totals. It could be worth as much as 2 or 3 percent advantage.”

Even though women seem to be on the rise in elected positions, a call for a greater equality in numbers persists.

Representation 2020, named such because 2020 is the 100th anniversary of women gaining the right to vote, is an organization dedicated to raising awareness of under-representation of women in elected office.

The organization seeks to achieve gender parity, which means that it is just as likely for a woman as a man to run and be elected into office.

“I think we get caught up in measuring progress in women’s politics and the activation of the women’s voting base by counting women in office,” Roach said, “and I think that is a mistake.”

“There is a lot of pushback from people who say, ‘Oh, you just want a quota. We just need the best and the brightest,’” said Cynthia Terrell, a founder of Representation 2020, in an interview with Flyer News. “And, that is true. We do need the best and the brightest, and, currently, there are structural obstacles to having the best and the brightest having a seat at the table.”

Representation 2020 members conduct in-depth research regarding the gender disparity in elected officials nationwide. kelsey graphic_02They have developed a scoring system that assigns each state on a scale of zero, or no women in major elected office, to 100, or all women in such office. Ohio’s current parity record, or measure of equality, is 14.6. In 1993, Ohio’s parity record was 14.7.

With similar statistics across the nation, Terrell and Representation 2020 are dedicated to removing structural obstacles instead of adjusting the ways of the individual.

“The three main structures that Representation 2020 focuses on are recruitment targets for political parties and for PACs to set for the number of women candidates they support because there are just not enough women actually running,” Terrell stated.

Such programs, dedicated to recruiting women to run for office, have begun to spring up, including in Ohio.

“[Former Speaker of the Ohio House] Jo Ann Davidson was very interested in recruiting female candidates where there were qualified female candidates ready to run,” Taft said. “She created, back in 2001, the Jo Ann Davidson Ohio Leadership Institute for the purpose of preparing women to succeed in elected office.”

In addition to recruitment, members of Representation 2020 call for improved voting processes.

“The voting systems enable more women to actually win,” Terrell said. “Women do better in the 10 states that have multi-winner districts. There is also a system called “ranked choice voting system,” where voters can rank candidates in order of preference.”

“There is a set of internal legislative measures many countries have used that looked at rules how legislatives operate to make sure they are gender neutral or gender conscious,” Terrell said. “So, things like child care or telecommunicating if they have family responsibilities.”

On a similar note, Taft remarked, “It’s a challenge because the state legislature is meeting almost year-round. If they have to leave home to do that, then it is more of a challenge since we are still in situations, for better or for worse, [where] women seem to spend more time in terms of their family role.”

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