Each year, term limits make its way to the ballot. Sometimes it is through a ballot initiative of the people to impose or strengthen term limits. Most of the time, it is initiated by politicians to gut term limits. It is clear that most term limits initiatives to strengthen or impose term limits pass overwhelmingly…unless politicians who fear job security mislead the public with deceitful ballot language which includes convoluting the proposal as a multi-issue proposal with unrelated topics.
This year was no exception. This year, there were 25 term limits initiatives on the ballot. Of those, 21 improved term limits and only four we consider losses. Voters overwhelmingly approved implementing stricter term limits by as much as 83%. Where term limits lost, the margins were as close as 2%. We found term limits questions on the ballot in Alaska, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, North Dakota, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas.
The biggest victory for term limits is that the citizens of North Dakota passed 8-year term limits on their Governor and each chamber of the state legislature. It was a hard-fought battle against a diabolical entrenched incumbency and lobbyists, that was ultimately resolved by the North Dakota Supreme Court ordering the secretary of state to stop his unilateral “misapplication of the law” against the citizens forcing him to place term limits on the general election ballot. North Dakota is the first state to adopt term limits on the legislature in nearly twenty-years.
In Michigan, state legislators hijacked the people’s initiative to assure only the politician’s “lifetime terms” amendment made the ballot. They deliberately deceived the voters into gutting the people’s-initiated term limits with misleading ballot language devised by special interests. Despite that, the measure passed only by roughly 10 percentage points, indicating that many voters caught on to the deception. Regardless, the politicians came out victorious and may now hold office for what amounts to a lifetime.
The biggest lesson to learn from watching the proposal process is that, if term limits are on the ballot, and not worded to deceive, the measure will win overwhelmingly. The untold story here is that many, many more cities and municipalities proposed term limits measures that never made it to the ballot. If it doesn’t make the ballot, it can’t be voted on and can’t pass. Therefore, grassroots efforts need to focus on getting term limits on the ballot in the first place whether it be through a citizen’s initiative or through convincing the legislature to make the proposal. Unfortunately, citizens’ initiatives, where permitted, require abundant resources and an organizing body. Whereas most anti-term limits proposals are repeatedly and easily placed on the ballot by self-serving politicians over and over again until they get the answer they want. A prime example of this is the term limits loss in Arlington, Texas. Preventing this inequity is part of the mission of U.S. Term Limits. That’s why in North Dakota, Measure 1, includes a conflict-of-interest provision that prevents the legislature from referring any measure to the ballot to alter or repeal the term limits that the citizens just enacted. Only the citizens have the power to initiative changes to the term limits law.
See the table below for 2022 term limits ballot initiatives: