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The 16 female senators serving in Minnesota’s 91st Legislature, in May 2019. Nationwide, more than 3,400 women are running for state office this year. Courtesy Minnesota Senate Republicans

Women Aim to Build on Legislative Gains of Last Two Years

By Martha Saenz | Oct. 30, 2020 | State Legislatures Magazine

The past two years have set records for women in state legislatures, and this year could see further progress. An estimated 3,416 women are running for more than 6,000 legislative seats this year, which is only a little off the pace set in 2018, when a record 3,564 women ran for state office. Still, the odds of gains are good if 2020 is anything like 2018: When women run, they win.

Could this be the year that women represent more than 30% of state legislatures? At the beginning of 2020, 2,145 women served in the 50 state legislatures, making up 29% of all legislators nationwide. Just over a quarter of them were women of color.

Who Is Running?

According to the Center for American Women in Politics, a majority of the candidates, or 1,494, are incumbents, 1,219 are challengers and 703 are vying for open seats. Most are Democrats.

In 2018, women became the majority in the Nevada Assembly, winning 22 of the 42 seats. The Nevada Legislature now has the nation’s highest overall female representation, at 52%. Colorado is a close runner-up with 47%, followed by Oregon, Vermont, Alaska, Arizona, Maine and Washington. This map shows the percentages of women’s representation in every state and territory.

The odds of gains are good if 2020 is anything like 2018: When women run, they win.

In the U.S. territory of Guam, which has a female governor, women hold the majority in the unicameral legislature with 10 of the 15 seats. After elections in 2019, women increasingly moved into legislative leadership positions, with Virginia electing its first woman to serve as speaker. Nationwide, 75 women served as house speakers, senate presidents, speakers pro tem, senate presidents pro tem, majority leaders or minority leaders for the 2020 legislative session.

Mississippi’s 2019 state elections saw the number of women in the legislature increase from 12% to 16%, the highest percentage in state history. Alabama, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia do not have legislative races in 2020.

Turn to NCSL after the election for the complete story of the state of women in state legislatures for the 2021 session.

Martha Saenz is a program manager in NCSL’s Quad Caucus and Women’s Legislative Network.

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