Women’s political representation edges up at local level, but gains meager, study finds

Angela Alvey-Wimbush, Reverend Charles Mitchell and Dr. Mrylene Thelot

Angela Alvey-Wimbush, Reverend Charles Mitchell and Dr. Mrylene Thelot

by Nikita Biryukov, New Jersey Monitor

More women hold municipal office in New Jersey than last year, but women’s political representation in the Garden State continued to lag behind the national average and fell far short of parity, according to a new study from Rutgers University’s Center for American Women in Politics.

The study, which tallied representatives in the 242 New Jersey municipalities with 10,000 or more residents, found 30.6% of local seats were held by women, up slightly from 29.9% last year. The meager gains haven’t sent advocates jumping for joy.

“It doesn’t feel dramatic enough to me, to point to anything,” said Jean Sinzdak, the center’s associate director.

Despite the improvement, New Jersey continued to trail most of its neighbors on women’s representation, placing 27th overall.

Women held a greater share of local seats in New York (31.6%), Connecticut (34.7%), Massachusetts (33.5%), and Maryland (35.8%), but the Garden State edged out Delaware (29.9%) and Pennsylvania (29.2%).

In the photo above, Angela Alvey-Wimbush, Reverend Charles Mitchell, and Dr. Mrylene Thelot are running for legislative seats representing Elizabeth, Union, Roselle, and Kenilworth that are at stake in the June 6 Democratic primary election. They are challenging a slate of incumbents that includes two men and one woman.

Most of New Jersey’s 564 municipalities did not meet the survey’s population threshold, but the figures in Tuesday’s study closely resemble the results of a separate 2022 CAWP county survey that measured representation in all New Jersey municipalities.

Nationwide, women hold 32.1% of seats in municipalities with at least 10,000 residents, up slightly from the 31.8% recorded last year.

Sinzdak said peculiarities in New Jersey’s political process, including the outsized effect party support has during primaries, impacted the numbers. Women were asked to run and received party support less frequently than their male peers but won races at roughly equal rates, she added.

“Because our political system is set up in such a way that the parties really have a lot of control, they really are gatekeepers in a big way,” she said.

The incumbent advantage also played a part, especially when it came to mayoral seats, Sinzdak said. Despite gains elsewhere, women have continued to lag in mayoral representation, holding just 15% to 20% of those seats, according to CAWP’s 2022 county survey.

“It’s just one of those numbers that we can’t seem to ever break through and really make big strides on,” she said.

Women did not account for a majority of local officials in any states, nor reach equal representation in any part of the Union.

Alaska and Arizona topped the list, each reporting women held 45.1% of local seats, though only six Alaskan municipalities met the survey’s population threshold.

North Dakota, where the survey found just one in five local seats were held by women, had the broadest disparity in representation. But that figure was less than an outlier — women held less than 30% of seats in 20 states, the survey found.

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