Multi-Member Districts in NH a National Model for Equal Gender Representation

multi-member districts in New Hampshire
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multi-member districts in New Hampshire
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New Hampshire proves to be one of the more innovative states in its electoral process.

In its House of Representatives, districts are allotted a number of representatives to serve based on their population. Some districts have only one representative, but others have as many as eleven. They are elected through a process of multi-member district voting, where the citizenry casts as many votes as there are seats to be filled instead of voting for each seat separately and having different elections for each seat available.

What many studies have shown is that in these multi-member districts, more women get elected.

Political scientists believe that in these districts, parties feel pressure to run an equal number of women to men in a slate of candidates, and that voters tend to vote for candidates of both genders if they are given the opportunity.

Whether this theoretical justification is the reason for greater parity is still up for debate. However, statistics support the idea. Six of the 10 U.S. states with the highest percentage of women in their state legislatures use at least some form multi-member electoral districts, including Arizona, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Washington, and Vermont.

The Center for Voting and Democracy looked specifically at New Hampshire to examine whether multi-member districts are the reason that the state is a gold-standard for gender parity. (In addition to the legislature boasting 32.8% female representatives, the 2012 election witnessed women sweeping into all five major statewide elected offices: governor, both senators, and both congressional seats — the first time in history this occurred.)

By examining districts with at least 5 seats, the center studied 9 key districts, all of which were heavily Republican except one. In a winner take-all-format, this would mean those districts would presumably elect Republicans in almost all of the seats. However, Republicans did not dominate the results; instead Democrats were able to take seats in five of the eight heavily Republican districts.

In the center’s analysis, it found that the lack of Republican female options was the reason. Faced with a list of five or more male names and zero women, voters often crossed party lines to elect a woman.

In each seat that a Democrat won in the Republican district, the elected official was a women and the Republican that was left out was a man.

While New Hampshire typically enjoys a fairly independent-minded electorate to begin with, the center’s study indicates that gender trumps even party affiliation in the multi-member elections.

Whether individual states should change their electoral systems based on trying to increase gender representation is still up for debate; however, New Hampshire’s voting system appears to, at the very least, allow for more independent voting–an important conclusion for a country frequently mired in political morass.

The Independent Voter Network is dedicated to providing political analysis, unfiltered news, and rational commentary in an effort to elevate the level of our public discourse.


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  1. Shawn M Griffiths mattfairvote Shawn M Griffiths But, not all independent voters have a common political viewpoint. The plan, as it is, essentially just divides America into three factions instead of two: Republicans, Moderates, and Democrats. Yet, not all independent voters are moderates. Instead of just dividing America up among factions, shouldn't we support a system where candidates will reach out to a broader base of the electorate instead of just staying in their tiny box because they are guaranteed a seat?
  2. mattfairvote Shawn M GriffithsShaun, FairVote’s plan does imply that all independent voters together. The plan is to create multi-seat districts will give any group of independent voters that share a common political viewpoint the chance to elect an independent candidate. This is because the threshold of election (17% in a 5 seat district, compared to just over 50% in a single-seat district) will be small enough to allow non-two party candidates to get elected in any area of the country.
  3. Independent Workers of America Labor Association (IWALA) The same rationalke could used to boost minority representation in majority white districts and in the long term could serve as the justification to eliminate the majority-minority districting in place to compensate for Jim Crowism which was put in place to bar minorities from participating the the political pocess. I do, however, have a stight problem with including women in the minority category simply because the female population in the country represents the majority.Thus, if females really, really wanted to have equal representation, all they have to do is vote and make it happen, no?
  4. Independent Workers of America Labor Association ( The same rationalke could used to boost minority representation in majority white districts and in the long term could serve as the justification to eliminate the majority-minority districting in place to compensate for Jim Crowism which was put in place to bar minorities from participating the the political pocess. I do, however, have a stight problem with including women in the minority category simply because the female population in the country represents the majority.Thus, if females really, really wanted to have equal representation, all they have to do is vote and make it happen, no?
  5. Kevin C. Smith Not so much just to increase gender representation but to increase representativeness altogether.
  6. Kevin C. Smith Not so much just to increase gender representation but to increase representativeness altogether.
  7. JaneSusskind Great article Debbie - this is a really interesting topic, and something that I think is ignored when discussion gender representative governments. People are quick to say "we need more women in office!" but it's harder to actually find solutions. This could be something to study and look at for states serious about electing a more representative legislature.
  8. RockinghamCoGOP MarkLaliberte v_odescalchi bottom line, need more women on the tkt!
  9. highammichael I'm not too keen on electing someone with the primary reason being their gender. I do believe that representation reflecting our population is necessary and important, but it should be based on a candidate's ability to govern and quality of ideas.
  10. CharlotteDean @twittenup TheShawnG dsharnak aldotcom OMG if anyone transgender is even running, that will be huge progress....and most TG's sort of pick a gender brand and stick with it. Very, very few transgender people decide to be essentially "sexless" or refusing to engage with a gender binary that emphasizes genitalia or arbitrary male v female behavior. They exist, but even they, by necessity of living in society, need to identify with SOMEthing, and pick a pronoun. I don't know if Americans are ready for a representative who insists on being referred to as "ze" instead of "he" or "she," but if someone likes that runs I'll be following their campaign very closely...
11 comments
Independent Workers of America Labor Association (IWALA)
Independent Workers of America Labor Association (IWALA)

The same rationalke could used to boost minority representation in majority white districts and in the long term could serve as the justification to eliminate the majority-minority districting in place to compensate for Jim Crowism which was put in place to bar minorities from participating the the political pocess. I do, however, have a stight problem with including women in the minority category simply because the female population in the country represents the majority.Thus, if females really, really wanted to have equal representation, all they have to do is vote and make it happen, no?

Kevin C. Smith
Kevin C. Smith

Not so much just to increase gender representation but to increase representativeness altogether.

JaneSusskind
JaneSusskind

Great article Debbie - this is a really interesting topic, and something that I think is ignored when discussion gender representative governments. People are quick to say "we need more women in office!" but it's harder to actually find solutions. This could be something to study and look at for states serious about electing a more representative legislature. 

highammichael
highammichael

I'm not too keen on electing someone with the primary reason being their gender. I do believe that representation reflecting our population is necessary and important, but it should be based on a candidate's ability to govern and quality of ideas.

Shawn M Griffiths
Shawn M Griffiths

Multi-member districts sounds similar to a FairVote solution to congressional elections that was shared last week on IVN: http://ivn.us/infographics/2013/08/26/how-to-make-the-house-more-representative/

I don't have an issue with multi-district voting. I would prefer an approach that doesn't just sound like we are going to divide America up among factions as the FairVote solution makes it sound like while grouping all independent voters together as if they are the same. 

Alex_G
Alex_G

"voters often crossed party lines to elect a woman." I think both parties have failed to really pick up on that fact. sure Dems have slightly more women representatives but neither is making a priority of it.

mattfairvote
mattfairvote

@Shawn M GriffithsShaun, FairVote’s plan does imply that all independent voters together. The plan is to create multi-seat districts will give any group of independent voters that share a common political viewpoint the chance to elect an independent candidate. This is because the threshold of election (17% in a 5 seat district, compared to just over 50% in a single-seat district) will be small enough to allow non-two party candidates to get elected in any area of the country. 

CharlotteDean
CharlotteDean

@twittenup @TheShawnG @dsharnak @aldotcom OMG if anyone transgender is even running, that will be huge progress....and most TG's sort of pick a gender brand and stick with it. Very, very few transgender people decide to be essentially "sexless" or refusing to engage with a gender binary that emphasizes genitalia or arbitrary male v female behavior. They exist, but even they, by necessity of living in society, need to identify with SOMEthing, and pick a pronoun. I don't know if Americans are ready for a representative who insists on being referred to as "ze" instead of "he" or "she," but if someone likes that runs I'll be following their campaign very closely...

Shawn M Griffiths
Shawn M Griffiths

@mattfairvote @Shawn M Griffiths But, not all independent voters have a common political viewpoint. The plan, as it is, essentially just divides America into three factions instead of two: Republicans, Moderates, and Democrats. Yet, not all independent voters are moderates. Instead of just dividing America up among factions, shouldn't we support a system where candidates are encouraged to reach out to a broader base of the electorate instead of just staying in their tiny box because they are guaranteed a seat?