New report on gender parity in Colorado county elected offices

By Ellie Gerstner, Colorado 50-50 intern

Pie chart showing number of Colorado county elected officials who are women and men

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. 

Pie chart showing number of women and men county commissioners

County Commissioners

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
Pie chart showing numbers of women and men coroners

County Coroners

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. 

Pie chart showing number of women and men sheriffs

County Sheriffs

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
Pie chart showing numbers of women and men surveyors

County Surveyors

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.

Pie chart showing numbers of women and men treasurers

County Treasurers

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
Pie chart showing numbers of women and men assessors

County Assessors

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). 

Pie chart showing numbers of women and men clerk and recorders

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).

Pie chart showing numbers of women and men city council members

City Councilors

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.

Pie chart showing numbers of women and men district attorneys

District Attorneys

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).

Methodology

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. 

Conclusion

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.

© 2021 Colorado 50-50

Sara Loflin, Kate Miya, Stan Matsunaka

AAPI Community Summer Social – Broomfield

Given current demographics, there should be four members of the Asian-American and Pacific Islander (or AAPI) community in the Legislature, yet now we have zero! We’re working to change that. Almost a year ago, Colorado 50-50 brought together a group of volunteers specifically interested in seeing more AAPI women in elected office.

Please join us on Saturday, July 17, 10 AM – 12 PM at our Summer Social where you will meet other fabulous people who are interested in promoting AAPI women in leadership! 

We will be having coffee and donuts at Quail Creek Park pavilion, 2300 W. 138th Ave., in Broomfield. Suggested $10 donation to cover event costs.

We’re excited to be joined by speakers:
* former State Senate President Stan Matsunaka
* Erie Town Councilor Sara Loflin
* Thornton City Council candidate Kate Miya

Special guests include:
* Broomfield Interim Mayor Guyleen Castriotta
* Broomfield City Councilor Laurie Anderson

Have fun discussing politics and policy. Meet women elected officials and candidates. Bring your checkbook in case you meet some you would like to support financially. Get connected with people working on campaigns, hear what campaigns are like, and discover volunteer opportunities.

An RSVP via Eventbrite would be greatly appreciated so we order the right number of donuts. Come hang out with us!

Women in Politics – online April 24

Photos of Women in Politics panelists

Colorado 50-50 is pleased to be partnering with the El Pomar Foundation and the Colorado Municipal League to bring you a special “Women in Politics” event online from 4-6:30 PM on Saturday, April 24, 2021.

Recognizing that Colorado ranks 21st on the 2020 Gender Parity Index due to its successes in some areas such as the second highest share of women elected officials in the state legislature and challenges in other areas such as local and federal representation, this event is designed to encourage more women in Colorado to run for elected office, to demystify the process of running and to provide resources for them as they consider running for elected office.

The first session from 4-5 PM features a youth panel to get girls and young women interested in running, including:

  • State Senator Faith Winter
  • Former DU Student Body Vice President Jess Davidson
  • Parker Town Council Candidate Jeeva Senthilnathan

The second session from 5-6 PM is a panel discussion aimed at the general population. Our panelists are:

  • Congresswoman Diana DeGette
  • State Representative Iman Jodeh
  • State Representative Stephanie Luck
  • Alamosa City Councilor Liz Hensley

The third session from 6-6:30 PM is a networking session where participants will have opportunities to speak in small breakout groups with elected women officials. We hope you will encourage women to attend who should take their next steps in leadership!

Thanks to the generosity of El Pomar, the event is free! Registration is required by Friday, April 23, at noon, so sign up now.

Dear Denver Post – You Need More Women Opinion Writers

Woman reading a Denver Post opinion page, out of which the text of male writers has been cut, leaving many empty spaces.

Dear Editor,

As an avid reader of the Denver Post and the Perspective section, I am regularly disappointed with the lack of women’s voices – and those of people of color – on your pages. Recently, I was shocked to count six guest columns that were not only all from men, but appeared to be all from white men.

Why does Jon Caldara get to take up so much space? Or Doug Friednash? Or Ian Silverii?

There’s nothing wrong with hearing from these – or any other – white males. I’m sure they’re fine people, and they can write. For the record, white males are some of my closest friends.

The problem is that the opinion pages should more accurately reflect the population of Colorado. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that almost half of Coloradans are female. Of all Coloradans, about 68 percent are white, 22 percent are Hispanic or Latino, just under 5 percent are black or African-American, 3.5 percent are Asian, and about 1.5 percent are Native American.

Knowing these figures, it is interesting to know some other facts. A Byline Survey by The OpEd Project in 2012 found that women were penning just 20 percent of opinions in traditional U.S. publications. That’s not anywhere close to 50-50.

Also concerning to people like me who are working to get more women elected is research from Who Leads Us showing that even though white men make up 30 percent of the population, they hold 64 percent of elected offices. While people of color (both men and women) make up 39 percent of the U.S. population, they hold only 10 percent of elected positions. For women of color specifically, the numbers are the worst – 20 percent of people and only 4 percent of seats.

Not only are women absent in seats of power, sometimes they are invisible in men’s commentary about politics. More than once I have read pieces that did not even mention that there were women candidates running in a given race. Women candidates have enough challenges without being casually erased from the opinion page.

These discrepancies have consequences – both in the world of ideas and in the world of policy. We are missing different life experiences, other ways of thinking about things, and valuable viewpoints. As a society, we make better policy decisions when there are diverse voices at the table. Many studies of government and business have shown this to be true.

The good news is women have opinions!

I was so concerned about the lack of women opinion writers that I decided to try to help. I spent some time rounding up a list of women with opinions. The women on this list are diverse in their race, their political party, their age, and their geography.

These women are ready to write columns for you:

  • Cynthia Coffman
  • Paula Cole
  • Melanie Dubin
  • Rebekah Henderson
  • Alice Madden
  • Amber McReynolds
  • Confidence Omenai
  • Vanessa Quintana
  • Elizabeth Skewes
  • Maya Siegel
  • Suzi Q. Smith
  • Kristin Strohm
  • Emma Tang
  • Calandra Vargas-O’Hanlan
  • and me.

This is a brief list. I’m sure that there are many more women who would be willing to lend their voices to the conversations happening in your paper.

Expanding the number of diverse women thought leaders is especially urgent as we approach not only the next legislative session, but also a very consequential presidential election and U.S. Senate election. I urge you to add more women writers to your rotation of columnists.

Erin Hottenstein
Founder
Colorado 50-50