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Term limit
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Term limit

A term limit is a clause put in a constitution, statute, or bylaw which limits the number of terms a person may serve in a particular elected office. An example would be the 22nd Amendment of the United States Constitution which says that no person can be elected President more than twice.

The primary argument in favor of term limits is that democratic governance requires responsive and accountable elected officials, and that when elected officials become entrenched in office they stop being responsive and accountable. Incumbency provides elected officials an important electoral advantage over their challengers. Attributable to name recognition by voters, superior campaign fundraising, constituent casework, and patronage and pork barreling, incumbency makes most elected Members of the U.S. House of Representatives almost unbeatable. They leave office largely due to death, retirement and the rare scandal. According to this argument, only term limits ensure that legislative seats such as these remain effectively subject to popular democracy.

The are several arguments that have been made against term limits. One is that they unfairly limit voter choices by forcing a popular elected official to leave office even though he or she would easily win re-election. Another argument made against term limits is that politicians need time to properly learn the job and that term limits remove the politician just as he or she is getting fully acquainted with the job. There has also been an argument that term-limits benefit lobbyists as it is suggested that it is easier to get favors from someone without the option of being re-elected (i.e. a lame duck) then someone who might have to answer to the voters in the next election.

A popular rebuttal term-limit supporters give to the first argument is that a) it confuses the electoral advantages of incumbency with popularity and b) insuring democratic governance is more important than popularity for the political system. As to the second argument against, term-limit supporters often respond that long terms in office do not necessarily lead to better leadership on behalf of their constituents but rather simply better knowledge of how to manipulate the system for the benefit of themselves and their campaign donors. As to the third argument, they offer the recall election as a means of removing a termed-out politician who seems unresponsive to his or her constituents.

Congressional term limits featured prominently in the 1994 Republican Contract with America. In 1995, with the Republican party holding a majority of seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, a proposed Constitutional amendment imposing term limits failed to get the required two-thirds vote of the House, and the concept has subsequently lost popularity.