Why Term Limits Continue To Work Well and How Congress Could Learn

Every election cycle some of the same things often happen; inevitably some politicians will run as a term limit crusader and often an incumbent will make the argument that only he or she has the unique set of skills to continue the job they do in office. Also, during elections we get to see what the consequences are of states that have term limits and those that do not. What was evident from this cycle was that term limits in Michigan created more electoral participation while a lack of term limits in Alabama had the opposite effect. As an article in the Associated Press noted that Alabama was among the states with the least contested legislative races in the general election. Alabama does not have term limits.

Researchers have routinely studied what effects term limits have on state governments. As the ,AP article noted, a study by National Institute for Money in State Politics found that 43 percent of Alabama’s legislative seats were contested Nov. 4. However, this was not the lowest amount of participation; Georgia was the lowest with only 20 percent of its legislative seats contested. On the other end of the spectrum, Michigan, a term limits state, had 100 percent of its legislative races contested. Neither Georgia nor Alabama have term limits for elected officials.

Twenty one states at one time had term limits for state elected officials, 15 states still have term limits. Term limits have continued to stimulate electoral competition but also have other ancillary benefits such as enabling nontraditional candidates to run for seats in state legislatures as well as weaken seniority systems in legislatives bodies and promote public policies compatible with limited government. Republicans in the US House of Representatives have seen the benefits of term limits, and use them for committee leadership positions by limiting a member to a six year term. While some members wine about the brain drain, others have noted that the policy keeps committees dynamic with fresh ideas and also prevents a concentration of power in just a few members.

One can see the benefits of term limits when incumbents routinely attempt to weaken them. Two states, Arkansas and California have successfully weakened their term limits by increasing the amount of time an elected official can stay in the legislature.

All of these indicators are proof positive that term limits work and foster more engagement in election and more choices for voters. Term limits create more candidates for each office which produces choices. When voters have choices they tend to vote more often and this also supports engagement in the electoral process. These results are all healthy functions for stable democracies. Term limits continue to pave the way for supporting engaged electoral bodies.

Thirteen new members of Congress have pledged that they would support and vote for a term limits amendment in Congress, while most polling comes back the same way, three fourths of the public supports term limits for Congress. With the support and benefits that term limits enjoy, Congress as a whole should take a serious look at enacting real reform and adopt term limits.

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