Election On the Hill Politics

Historic Wins for Women of Color Down the Ballot

On Tuesday, nine states and the District of Columbia held primary elections. These elections resulted in historic gains for women, particularly for women of color. In spite of current circumstances, including the COVID-19 pandemic and nationwide protests, voter turnout was impressive and women candidates of color prevailed in primaries for Congress, state legislatures, and local government. Although these candidates will face competitive elections in November, the success of diverse candidates suggests that widespread unrest has enhanced civic engagement and political participation.

 In New Mexico, voter turnout increased by 14 percent compared to the state’s 2016 primary. In a race for the state’s third Congressional district, Teresa Leger Fernandez won her primary and is expected to win in November as well. Fernandez’s win would result in the state having an all-female house delegation in 2021, comprised entirely of Hispanic and Native American women. If Fernandez wins in November and incumbent women retain their seats, New Mexico will send the greatest number of women and women of color to the United States Congress in January.

Iowa also made history on Tuesday. According to the Center for American Women and Politics, Tuesday’s primary determined that the majority of congressional nominees in Iowa will be women. In two of the four races for the House of Representatives and in the race for the United States Senate, all candidates will be women in November. The presence of so many women candidates is particularly significant given the fact that Iowa elected its first woman to the Senate in 2014 and its first women to the House of Representatives in 2018. Voter turnout in Iowa increased by 35 percent compared to the 2016 primary.

In Indiana, Christina Hale became her congressional district’s Democratic nominee, and if successful, will be the state’s first Latina congresswoman. Meanwhile, Paulette Jordan, a Native American woman, won a Democratic primary for the United States Senate in Idaho; if successful, Jordan will be the first Native American statewide elected official since 1980. In Ferguson, Missouri, Ella Jones became the city’s first female and first African American mayor.

With the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affecting communities of color and women, and with ongoing discussions about the effects of police brutality on black women and girls, calls for the enhanced political representation of marginalized communities have grown in recent days. The results of Tuesday’s primary elections suggest that the coming November election has the potential to elect more diverse legislatures at all levels of government. Moreover, these results suggest that the momentum surrounding women candidates seen in 2018 will persist in 2020.


Sources: New York Times 6/2/20, 6/3/20; Center for American Women and Politics, 6/3/20; PBS New Hour, 6/3/20; Vox, 6/3/20; Time, 6/3/20, 6/4/20; Society for Women’s Health Research, 4/30/20

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