As the 2020 presidential election looms, North Carolina has received a grade of “D” in women’s political participation.
Women make up 51 percent of North Carolina’s population. But their representation in politics falls far short of that.
That’s according to a Status of Women in North Carolina report commissioned by the state and conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.
The study looked at data relating to voter registration and turnout, female-appointed state representation, and state-based institutional resources. Out of those areas, the state fares the poorest in elected representation -- ranking 43rd out of all states for its women elected-to-office index.
“North Carolina has not seen the continual upward progress that a lot of other states have seen, especially in recent years.”
That’s Elyse Shaw, co-author of the report. She says that at the current rate of change, it will be the year 2084 before women reach parity in the state legislature. And Shaw points out that for Black women and other women of color, current state representation is especially scant.
“Black women make up 30% of all women in the North Carolina state legislature. This is 8% of all seats. Much less than their share of the population.”
In terms of female voter registration, statewide data shows that North Carolina’s rates are on par with national numbers.
But county-by-county data paints a bleaker picture for the Cape Fear region. Out of all 100 counties in North Carolina, New Hanover ranks the 9th lowest in percentage of overall voters who are women. Pender County ranks in 19th lowest, and Brunswick County is a little closer to the middle, at 32nd.
The figures are disheartening -- but there is some good news. In terms of resources that help connect voters and assist women in running for office, North Carolina ranks 5th best in the country, tied with 20 other states.
The state also has five county-level women’s commissions, one of which was appointed by the New Hanover County Board of Commissioners. And 5th District Court Judge Robin Robinson, who serves on the state Council for Women Advisory’s board, says that representation has improved over time.
“When I was in law school in the 1980s, women were about 30% of the class. Now that is up over 50%.
When I started my practice in Wilmington, there was just a very small handful of women attorneys, maybe less than 10% of our bar. We developed a very close bond for support professionally as well as socially -- and I'm not sure of the percentage now, but I would say that my observation would be that it's at least 35, maybe 40% women in the bar locally.”
The study includes recommendations for improvement. Those suggestions include strategies to ensure the safety of all voters during the COVID-19 pandemic -- like increasing electronic voter registration, expanding use of absentee ballots and mail-in voting, and making election day a paid holiday.
The Institute for Women’s Policy Research also suggests eliminating voter ID laws that disenfranchise marginalized voters, combatting gerrymandering, and encouraging more women to run for office through mentorship, sponsorship, and education and training programs.
You can read the full report here.