New Jersey maintained its percentage of women holding municipal office in the newest annual report from the Center for American Women and Politics, but its rank relative to other U.S. states fell five spots from the previous year, as some of the others significantly improved their numbers.

The 2022 Women in Municipal Office fact sheet revealed that women make up 29.9% of officeholders in the Garden State's 242 incorporated municipalities of 10,000 or more residents, a percentage that stayed flat from the initial 2021 report while the national average grew a point, from 30.5% to 31.5%.

That stagnation was enough to drop New Jersey from 25th overall to 30th, the third-biggest drop in rank behind New Hampshire and South Carolina. Delaware, which had the largest jump, leapfrogged 13 spots in a year and is now the new No. 25.

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"We're just kind of flatlining, and not really moving the needle, and what we need to see is more consistent, sustained progress over time," Jean Sinzdak, CAWP associate director, said.

New Jersey's underwhelming showing in the study hit close to home: While CAWP is a national group, it is a division of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.

According to Sinzdak, "the power of incumbency" is alive and well in the state, and it's not just voters who are to blame.

"The party chairs have a lot of control here in New Jersey, so it would be great for them to really prioritize getting more women into office," she said.

What else might help? Better recruitment, Sinzdak said — and not just with respect to gender, but also race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.

Public officials should look like the people in the communities they serve, Sinzdak said.

"We know that women are less likely to get recruited than men are to run for office, so if we make recruitment a priority, we can really increase our numbers," she said.

Sinzdak said some movement in the rankings from year to year is not unexpected, since for instance, Hawaii has just one municipality that qualifies under CAWP's criteria, and right now half of its council members are women.

Only California, Illinois, and Texas have more of those such communities than New Jersey, according to CAWP's data.

However, Hawaii's mark of 50% represents a target Sinzdak would like to see New Jersey try to reach. Female officeholders at the state level are already more plentiful than per municipality, with a 34.2% mark that tops the national average and ties for 17th place.

"New Jersey has work to do if we want to get better representation and also move ourselves up the ranks in terms of how women are doing in local office," Sinzdak said, adding that people are often surprised to find out percentages of female representation is not closer to 50%.

Later this year, CAWP will be releasing a county-level report card, which may shed some more light on New Jersey's progress inbetween the municipal and state levels.

Patrick Lavery is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com

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