Fiscal Facts by Wisconsin Policy Forum

The share of female state lawmakers in Wisconsin has shifted over time from being substantially larger than the rest of the country to currently, about average nationally.

An even smaller share of local offices in Wisconsin such as mayors and city council or county board seats, are held by women. This lack of female elected leaders at the local level — often the “bench” for higher office — suggests the dynamic at the state level may be unlikely to change significantly in the near term.

Higher levels of female representation are seen in some county posts, the state Supreme Court and school boards. Notably, representation of women in nearly all state and local offices has grown since 2015.

Data compiled by the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University shows the share of women holding legislative seats in Wisconsin rose from 7.6 percent in 1975 to 31 percent in 2021, with women now holding a record 41 of the 132 legislative seats in both houses.

Yet other states have made greater progress, and the percentage of women holding legislative seats in Wisconsin has gone from outpacing the rest of the nation in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s to being about average today.

With a handful of exceptions, women hold municipal, county and judicial elected office at rates lower than seats in the state Legislature. The positions with the highest representation of women are clerk of courts (93 percent), Wisconsin Supreme Court justices (86 percent), county treasurers (83 percent), county clerks (82 percent), county register of deeds (82 percent), court of appeals (44 percent), school boards (44 percent), and tribal councils and legislatures (36 percent).

In most municipal and county offices, however, women fill 29 percent or fewer of elected positions. For instance, in 2021, women held approximately 29 percent of Wisconsin’s 1,500 city council positions, 27 percent of 2,500 village board trustee positions, and 24 percent of 1,600 county board supervisor positions. The lowest areas of representation are city mayor (13 percent) and county sheriff offices (6 percent).

In the judiciary, women occupied 44 percent of court of appeals seats and 32 percent of circuit court seats in 2021, and the most recent available data from 2015 shows that women held 19 percent of municipal judge seats.

A 2020 Forum report found that races for local office such as city council and county board often lack competition, with voters in many cases finding only one candidate on their ballot. Consideration of why women are under-represented and what it might take to alter that trend may help to ensure a greater range of choices for voters, as well as a broader range of perspectives in policymaking.

This information is provided to Wisconsin Newspaper Association members as a service of the Wisconsin Policy Forum, the state’s leading resource for nonpartisan state and local government research and civic education. Learn more at