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During mock protest in Fargo, women push for greater representation in elected office

FARGO - The 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote in 1920, but they remain vastly underrepresented in elected office across the country, including in North Dakota.

Taking part in a mock demonstration at the Fargo Theatre on Tuesday, March 8, 2016, is Lethe Hoxtell, holding a sign to commemorate International Women's Day. Rick Abbott / The Forum
Taking part in a mock demonstration at the Fargo Theatre on Tuesday, March 8, 2016, is Lethe Hoxtell, holding a sign to commemorate International Women's Day. Rick Abbott / The Forum

FARGO – The 19th Amendment granted women the right to vote in 1920, but they remain vastly underrepresented in elected office across the country, including in North Dakota.

The North Dakota Women's Network wants that to change.

The organization hosted a film screening at the Fargo Theatre on Tuesday – International Women's Day – to publicize and raise money for its Ready to Run program, which helps to prepare and encourage women to run for public office.

At the entrance to the screening of "Iron Jawed Angels," a HBO film about the women's suffrage movement, volunteers held signs with slogans used decades ago in opposition to the movement.

The signs served as a reminder of the challenge women faced in fighting for the right to vote.

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Some of them read: "My wife's joined the suffrage movement ... I've suffered ever since!" and "We don't want petticoat rule."

Shelly Carlson, one of the event's organizers, lamented the fact that despite being half the population, women make up a small fraction of political leaders. In North Dakota, she said, women make up only 19 percent of the Legislature and 22 percent of statewide office. In Minnesota, women make up 33 percent of legislators and 15 percent of mayors.

Part of the reason for the disparity, Carlson said, is that women tend to run for office after being asked, while men just run.

Renee Stromme, executive director of the Women's Network, said there's a "confidence gap": Women often feel they need to be perfectly prepared before running, despite the fact that many aspects of public office are learned on the job.

Though women might be less likely to run, Stromme said, when they do, they win at the same rate as men.

The issue, then, is just getting women to enter into races, which is the goal of Ready to Run.

One of the program's success stories is Rep. Jessica Haak, D-Jamestown, who attended the event Tuesday.

Haak said she was motivated to run for office in 2012 after witnessing a debate at the Legislature on domestic violence. Her participation in Ready to Run helped cement her candidacy.

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Karla Rose Hanson, a candidate for Fargo's District 44 House seat who attended the event, also praised Ready to Run.

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