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Making Our Grandmothers Proud: Women's Equality in the Voting Booth and in Office

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Thanks to the perseverance of our grandmothers and great-grandmothers, today we celebrate the 90th anniversary of women's right to vote in the United States.

And how we've voted! Though men had been voting for well over a century by the time the 19th amendment was ratified in 1920, women began outnumbering men at the polls in Presidential elections in just over 40 years. In 2008, women outvoted men by the largest margin to date -- almost 10 million.

We have certainly claimed our place in the voting booth. But true equality in our democracy means equal representation in the voting booth and in elected office.

As elected officials, our numbers are far from equal. Of the 535 total members of Congress, only 93 are women. Seventeen of 100 U.S. Senators are women, along with 76 of the 435 House members. Six women serve as Governor. In Massachusetts, where we've struggled to elect women at the top of the ticket, we have only one woman in our Congressional delegation and one woman elected to statewide office.

We can attribute some of this disparity to the unique challenges women candidates face in their campaigns. Research conducted by the Barbara Lee Family Foundation (BLFF) shows that voters often need to overcome doubts about women candidates' qualifications based on assumptions related to gender.

But voters also need qualified women candidates to vote for.

Even this year, despite political catchphrases proclaiming 2010 an unprecedented year for women's political success, the field of candidates is far from balanced. According to data from the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University, we have seen many more women candidates for national and state executive office in past years. In 1992, for example, 29 women filed as major party candidates for U.S. Senate, compared with 21 candidates in 2010. Also in 1992, 222 women ran for Congress; in 2010 we've seen 171 women Congressional candidates. This year, 16 women ran for governor -- less than half of the 34 women who ran for state executive office in 1994.

For women to achieve real parity in elected office, we need more women to run. But more often than not -- and certainly more often than men -- women need to be recruited as candidates. In fact, BLFF commissioned research showing that compared with their male colleagues, roughly twice as many women lawmakers said they seriously considered running for office only after someone suggested they run.

With that in mind, here's my pitch: We all know smart, strong women with the drive to make a difference. As our grandmothers and great-grandmothers showed us in the decades-long fight for women's suffrage, American women are no strangers to these qualities. Encourage these women to run for office.

Our democracy will be better for it. And our grandmothers would be proud.

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