Fewer women in NJ legislature, Eagleton finds

February 8, 2024

On January 23, the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at the Eagleton Institute of Politics released an updated ranking of the proportions of women serving in each state legislature across the country.

CAWP found that there was a decrease in the number of women serving in New Jersey’s legislature after the 2023 off-year elections. In interviews conducted by The Daily Targum, two University experts discussed the ranking’s findings and their implications.

Debbie Walsh, the director of CAWP, said 41 women are currently appointed in the New Jersey State Legislature, compared to last year’s 43 women legislators.

Julia Sass Rubin, the director of the public policy program and the associate dean of academic programs at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, said that New Jersey’s party line system distinguishes it from other states.

She said the state’s voting ballots display a horizontal or vertical list of names that are all endorsed by the Democratic or Republican Party.

“Everybody else is scattered across the ballot in different ways but always in a different column or row from the people on the line, and this has the effect of confusing voters as to what their choices are,” she said.

Walsh said that a candidate not on the party line, or those without party endorsements, may be overlooked on the ballot as their name is many columns away from more known names. Voters may associate a candidate’s position on the ballot with their importance, thereby diminishing candidates whose names are located on the far end of the ballot.

In some counties, party chairs are solely responsible for selecting ballot positions, Rubin said. While other counties hold conventions to decide the structure of the ballot, chairs may retain the power to veto the group’s decisions, she said.

Rubin also said that party chairs are mostly white men who give endorsements to those already inside their political circles. These groups are also largely made up of white men, resulting in the overrepresentation of white men on the party line, she said.

Therefore, if party chairs do not choose women or people of color for these roles, it becomes difficult for these groups to enter the political sphere, Walsh said. Not receiving an endorsement can also prevent candidates from accessing financial and volunteer resources.

“The political party leaders who make the decisions about who runs and who doesn’t run have to be conscious and caring about making sure that the candidates that they run are diverse, both (in) gender and race and ethnicity, sexual orientation,” Walsh said. “All of this needs to be in play to make sure that our legislative institutions are as diverse as the states that those institutions represent.”

Another concern is the amount of women in incumbent roles choosing not to run for reelection, Walsh said. Incumbents win more than 90 percent of the time they run, but if they decide not to run again or lose in primary elections, then women candidates must work harder to preserve the current gender ratio.

Walsh added that women display an increased likelihood of running for political offices when recruited, whereas men tend to nominate themselves. She said those in positions of political power must initiate diverse recruiting practices.

“The progress that we’ve seen in New Jersey over the years isn’t guaranteed — it doesn’t just happen,” Walsh said. “It requires intentional work in terms of recruiting women to run for office, training women to run for office, giving them the skill set they need.”

The Daily Targum, February 8, 2024

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