The 2024 election cycle officially began in Arkansas on Monday, November 8, with the week-long candidate filing period. Those wishing to run for a variety of state and federal offices will have until November 14 to visit the Capitol and submit paperwork. For partisan races, the primary is March 5. The general election for nonpartisan judicial offices will be held on the same day. The General Election and nonpartisan runoff is on November 5, 2024.

In 1976, Anna Belle Clement O’Brien, known as the first lady of Tennessee politics, ran for office on the slogan “A woman’s place is in the House… and the Senate too.” That idea—that women deserve a role in making decisions, controlling resources, and shaping policies and perspectives—is at the center of our work at the League of Women Voters of Arkansas (LWVAR). And it’s why we are stepping up our efforts to empower women to run for local and state offices in the Natural State.

The Need for Representation

When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June 2022, it was yet another reminder that we still live in a country where decisions are made for women instead of by them. In Arkansas, like much of the nation, women remain underrepresented in local and state government. At the federal level, approximately one of four legislators are women. In our state legislature, we see similar disparities. According to Axios, at the end of 2021, 33 women held elected office in Arkansas, down from 37 – a record high – at the end of 2020.

These numbers are not just statistics; they represent voices and perspectives that are missing from our decision-making processes.

The Power of Representation

In a democracy, representation is not only a vital principle but also the bedrock of good governance. Research shows that women in politics tend to work more collaboratively across party lines and introduce legislation on issues that have historically gone unaddressed. It’s clear that having more women at all levels of government will make government work better for everyone.

Investing in State Legislatures

At LWVAR, we believe that state legislatures are catalysts for transformative progress. Arkansas has 135 seats at the state level, providing a broad stage for change. State legislatures control $2 trillion per year in spending and write the laws that govern people’s day-to-day lives on issues ranging from voting to reproductive rights to education.

Moreover, serving in state legislatures often serves as a launchpad to higher office. Half of the women currently serving in Congress got their start in statehouses. Electing more women to these seats and supporting them as they advance their legislative agendas deepens the pool of women qualified to serve at the highest levels of government.

Overcoming Challenges

Running for office can be a demanding, unpaid, time-intensive, and sometimes dangerous job, particularly for women and even more so for women of color. Convincing donors and party gatekeepers that they are viable candidates can be challenging. However, external support can make a significant difference.

Fixing the System

While we continue to encourage women to run for office, we must also work to fix the system. Outdated rules that hinder women, especially mothers, from participating in politics need to be reformed. Practical changes, such as allowing virtual attendance at hearings, offering paid family and medical leave, and permitting candidates to use campaign funds for childcare, would make it easier for more mothers and fathers to run for office. By getting rid of outdated rules left over from an era when women lawmakers were the exception, we can help make women lawmakers a new norm.

The tide is starting to turn. Today, there are more women in Congress than ever before. Last fall’s election set new records for the number of women governors and state legislators. But we must ensure that women are not just present but leading the charge to build women’s political power at all levels of government.

LWVAR is committed to supporting women who aspire to run for office and advocating for changes that make the path to political leadership more accessible. We invite women from all walks of life, especially here in Arkansas, to join us in this movement.

It’s time to answer the call, to echo the sentiments of Anna Belle Clement O’Brien, and declare that “A woman’s place is in the House… and the Senate too.” Let’s build a more inclusive, representative, and effective government for Arkansas together.