By Ellie Gerstner, Colorado 50-50 intern
In Colorado alone, there are more than 550 elected positions at the county level. These county positions include assessor, clerk and recorder, county commissioner, coroner, treasurer, sheriff, surveyor, and district attorney. New research from Colorado 50-50 shows that overall, there are 218 women and 336 men elected, this puts women at just under 40% of the total count. These percentages and ratios change drastically depending on the position. Please note that this research includes elected officials only (not appointed), which may make it appear there is a discrepancy in numbers of certain positions. Colorado has not achieved our mission of a 50-50 ratio, but the number of women in government positions is trending in a positive direction.
Typically, there are three county commissioners per county, making this the largest overall position. There are 190 commissioners in Colorado, 48 of them being women and the remaining 142 being men (25.3% women, 74.7% men). County commissioners are in charge of budgeting for the county, overseeing organization, and levying taxes. This is considered the highest position in the county, which may be why women have such a low representation in this category. Eva Henry, county commissioner of Adams County, began her political career in 2007, and has been a successful and dedicated public servant ever since.
From my own experience I had to run against the “Old Boys Club.” I was discouraged from the beginning. I was told I didn’t have the experience. That I was too progressive. I couldn’t handle the stress. You need a very strong support system to run for those positions.
Women need to be considered and asked especially for sheriff. Then we need to be prepared to give them the support they need. There will definitely be opposition from their own party. Sheriff is a glass ceiling that has to be broken.
I am lucky enough to serve on a board that has had a majority of women since 2014.Eva Henry, Adams County Commissioner
County coroners are in charge of investigating certain deaths within the county. This is an elected position in Colorado, and 43 of them being men and 15 being women (or 27.1% women, 72.9% men) does not come close to 50-50 gender parity especially given national statistics of female coroners. Across the United States, 82% of all coroners are women, while about one fourth of elected coroners in Colorado are women.
Each of the 64 counties has an elected county sheriff, with only one of them being a woman (1.7% women, 98.3% men). Her name is Amy Reyes and she is the sheriff of Lake County.
I believe there are several factors which play into why there are not as many women as there are men in positions such as mine. Law enforcement has been a predominantly male field in part because, some of the physical demands to do this job. There has been the stigma where women are not as strong as males therefore, would not perform the same in a situation where physical force is needed. However, women in law enforcement continue to dispel this stereotype. Another factor is law enforcement is a 24/7 career and these types of schedules which often have lots of overtime, make it very difficult to raise a family without a tremendous amount of support from family and friends.
Law enforcement is still constructed on a very military design, for example my position as sheriff holds the same authority as a four star general in the military. Some of our society still holds the stigma that they do not want a woman in power with that much authority because she might make an irrational decision that is based on emotion, because many believe women are emotional creatures who make decisions based on what time of the month it is for us.
Lastly, women in high positions, by my own experience, are looked at as too bitchy, power hungry, the lesbian, the slut, the mother figure for those who need it, before we are looked at as an equal.Amy Reyes, Lake County Sheriff
County surveyors are in charge of boundaries involving county land and information that is useful for boundary disputes. Only 25 of Colorado’s counties have elected surveyors and of the 25, 4 are women and 21 are men (16.0% women, 84% men). Again, not even remotely reaching gender parity.
County treasurers deal with the taxes that the county collects. Of the 60 elected treasurers in Colorado, 46 are women and 14 are men (76.7% women, 23.3% men). This is a heavily female-dominated position. We asked Larimer County Treasurer Irene Josey to reflect on her experience.
Because our responsibilities are administrative in nature – we are not policy or law makers – and women are seen as excellent thinkers, collaborators and negotiators, we are chosen or elected to fill that role by those that know us well. I have found that women are considered very trustworthy and reliable when it comes to managing money – especially public funds.
Many female Colorado treasurers have a similar background as mine; many have worked for their offices for years before being elected as the treasurer. It’s a job we have learned from doing the tasks and experiencing the team effort it takes to be successful. Most have a history of working in various positions in their respective offices and gained credibility by that experience. They know the functions and duties of property tax collection, public funds investing and the technology needs required for mandatory tax authority distribution. As I look back on my 35 years and I look forward to the challenges to come, I am proud to say it’s an honor and privilege to represent my county and other elected women.Irene Josey, Larimer County Treasurer
County assessors determine the “actual” market value for properties within their counties. Of the 61 county assessors in Colorado, 34 are female and 27 are male (55.7% women, 44.3% men).
County Clerk and Recorders
The county clerk and recorder is in charge of elections and voter registration, as well as other records and licenses, such as marriage licenses and death certificates. This is a highly female-dominated position, 53 of them being women and 10 being men (84.1% women, 15.9% men).
The counties of Denver and Broomfield do not have the typical county set up, because of the way they were organized under state law. Instead, the city councilors represent the county, making these 21 individuals relevant to the gender parity county count. It is important to note that Denver and Broomfield are two large metro areas, which as past research from Colorado 50-50 shows, has a correlation to having higher numbers of women in government. More specifically, Denver has 13 City Councilors in total, 8 of them being women. Broomfield has 10 City Councilors, 7 of them being women. The total percentages for both counties are 65.2% women and 34.8% men.
District attorneys in Colorado often represent multiple counties. Of the 64 Colorado counties, 22 of them possess district attorneys. The district attorney is the prosecutor of criminal cases and represents the government in criminal offenses. It is unnecessary for every county in Colorado to have a district attorney based on size and need. Of the 22 district attorneys, only 4 are women (18.2% women, 81.8% men).
To accumulate this information, we went to each individual county website in Colorado. This research was compiled in the fall of 2020, meaning these numbers reflect those in the position at that time. We made a solid effort to determine gender based on names. More investigation was done into names that are gender neutral via internet search engines. Based on this method, we were not able to determine if a person was gender non-conforming, nonbinary, or transgender. For these reasons, it is possible some errors were made.
Each position was counted in each county, however, there are variances on the number of positions because not every county has each position. This research only includes elected officials, which results in “missing” officials in counties that appoint certain positions, rather than elect them. The surveyor position is the most drastic, partially due to the lack of interest in the position. It is very low paying and does not obtain the same respect or authority that a treasurer would, for example. Even with the varying numbers in position, every elected surveyor accounted for is in the data.
We at Colorado 50-50 were fascinated to discover the outcomes of the data for representation of women in elected county level positions. Positions that contain more traditionally female roles have higher numbers of women serving, such as treasurer, assessor, and clerk and recorder, while traditionally male roles had lower numbers of women serving, such as county commissioner, district attorney, coroner, and sheriff. Regardless of the position, it is important for women to be included and well represented at every level and in every area of government.
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