On this site, you will find information about constitutional electoral structure (term lengths, term limits, voting and the Electoral College), amending the U.S. Constitution, the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution, how a three-year election cycle would work, and other governing structural matters.
A new three-year cycle would entail:
Two-year terms in the House and, especially, four-year terms for president have run their course. Lame-duck presidencies are worsening and becoming more frequent. The Permanent Campaign is making governing harder, taking time from citizens' lives too, and driving voters away.
Amending the U.S. Constitution should be difficult. Accordingly, this idea is a thought experiment, a longer-term solution that needs to be vetted first. If lame-duck presidencies and the permanent campaign continue to worsen, a three-year election cycle may build appeal.
There are. Voting rights, the gerrymander, campaign finance and international intrusion all warrant attention and action. But solving them will not reverse the declining value of presidential second terms or stop the permanent campaign from grinding down our democracy.
Not always. Like bridges and other infrastructure, repair or replacement is necessary when erosion occurs. If the schedule of our elections no longer serves us well, we need to consider changing it. In the years and decades ahead, a three-year election cycle may be seen as long overdue.
You're in the right place. Through the content on this website, the Structure Matters Blog and links to articles and other publications, you can find out more and follow developments. The Additional Features section is a good place to start.
Four amendments about constitutional electoral structure that would: advance voting as an obligation as well as a right; replace the Electoral College; change term lengths (per above); and add congressional term limits, but twice as long as the commonly proposed 12 years.
Yes. They work together as a set to frame our political institutions and determine how we select their leaders.
Not today. But the Constitution was called "unamendable" by the Washington Post just 14 years before the Progressive Era's first of four amendments (the 16th, in 1913). Decades-long stretches without amendments is the norm.
Maybe, maybe not. But in 15 years we will mark the 250th anniversary of the Constitution. The best way to celebrate the document in 2037 is to repair it.
You're in the right place. Just keep reading this website and the articles and columns listed below.
Election Law Journal*
"We Love the Bill of Rights. Can We Like a Bill of Structures?", December 2022 (Forthcoming). In this article, I review constitutional amendment history, describe the structural electoral problems that require constitutional amendment—voting, the Electoral College, term lengths and term limits—propose the four-amendment set that would address them (the Bill of Structures), and present the 250th anniversary of the Constitution in 2037 as a compelling target date for pursuing such amendments.
"Presidential Second Terms Are Not Cursed, But the Timing of Reelection Has Become So," June 2018. In this article I review the history of presidential term-length consideration and make the case for a first term of six years and a second term of three years. (Promoted in advance as a “high-impact article” and, after publication, as a “top-read open access article” -- May 13, 2020.)
Idaho Law Review
"Election Structure Matters: Fixing the Creaks and Cracks in the Constitution by Its Quarter Millennium," 2020 Symposium, Democracy Evolved: The Future of American Elections, September 2020. In this article I address the problems with the Electoral College, presidential term lengths and congressional term limits. I propose: 1) replacing the Electoral College with a system using the popular vote and runoff elections, likely of the instant variety, to deliver majority outcomes; 2) changing the presidency to a six-year first term and three-year second term; and 3) considering limits on congressional tenure that are at least two decades long.
"Single 18-year terms for justices? Not so fast,” Opinion, August 10, 2021. This column identifies the fatal flaw in the otherwise compelling proposal for staggered 18-year terms for Supreme Court justices. Despite the plan’s benefits from standardizing the rotation of justices, such fixed terms would cause the definitive knowledge of the departing justices to be weaponized; hyper-partisanship would merely shift from the confirmation process to the permanent campaign, where it would worsen and lengthen.
“The too-short term limit mistake," Opinion, June 24, 2021. In this column, I review the history of congressional tenure and term-limit advocacy that has had a baseline of two Senate terms, and argue for limits twice as long. (Published in follow-up to my recent letter in the Washington Post on the topic (third one), prompted by Roxanne Roberts's lengthy column on the aging US Senate, an otherwise good feature that only considered the usual limit of two Senate terms).
“It may take a while, but elections and voting could be the force behind constitutional change,” Opinion, April 22, 2021. In this column I use the history of constitutional amendments to make the case why election reform could be the next subject for amendments – by the 250th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.
“It’s a close call, Colorado, but please stick with the national popular vote,” Opinion, October 29, 2020. In this column I urge voters in Colorado to support the state’s prior decision to join the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact, despite the compact’s flaws. (The ballot measure, Proposition 113, passed with 52.3% of the vote.)
“Elector faithlessness is the least of the college's problems,” Opinion, June 11, 2020. In this column I discount the impact of the Supreme Court’s pending decision in the faithless elector cases, elevate the larger problems with the electoral college and identify the fatal flaw in the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
“It’s time to make presidents face the country’s six-year itch,” Opinion, April 1, 2020. In this column I describe the problems with reelection at the "four-year crutch" and argue for a six-year first term followed by a three-year second term. “Scratching that six-year itch again, with Trump in mind,” Opinion, August 24, 2020. In this follow-up column I demonstrate why the Trump presidency is irrelevant to term-length considerations. There are four reason why a single six-year term of a Trump-like president would be implausible. Furthermore, Trump’s presidency is problematic because of issues with the Electoral College, the presidential nominations process and voter turnout, not term lengths.
The Hill's Congress Blog
In this column, Election Reform: It’s About Time (May 3, 2013), I present an overall case for the three-year election cycle. Its focus is on time and the permanent campaign.
The Washington Post
In Here’s a better approach to electing presidents (September 15, 2022), I note how re-election at four years (rather than six) contributes to single-term presidents having diminished reputations, which troubled Outlook columnist Matthew Dallek.
In Term limits can work – if they’re the right length (April 21, 2022), I point out the value of longer congressional term limits and called for an end to the practice of talking about term limits without indicating their length (an error perpetuated in Ruth Marcus’s otherwise cogent column about Senator Dianne Feinstein’s declining performance).
In response to the article, You're never over the hill on the Hill (June 3, 2021), my letter (third one down) argues for longer congressional term limits, not the common but flawed two-term proposal for the Senate.
In The electoral college should go (May 22, 2020), I make a nonpartisan critique of the Electoral College and stress the need for majority rather than plurality voting outcomes.
In It’s not time to throw out the electoral college (April 7, 2019), I argue for its careful replacement, not merely its elimination.
In Evaluating the terms of a president (January 8, 2014), I indicate the merits of changing term lengths rather than term limits.
The New York Times
In this Sunday Dialogue: A Single Seven-Year Term for the President? (April 28, 2013), I introduce the idea of a six-year first term and a three-year second term.
At the Constitutional Convention, James Madison proposed three-year terms in the House. This structure actually was the first to be adopted by the delegates. However, supporters of single-year terms regrouped and offered the two-year term compromise that was included in the final version of the document and remains in effect today.
The ideas that four years are too short a term and that reelection pressures and distractions are worth avoiding are not new. In fact, the proposal for a single six-year term for the president was first introduced in Congress in 1826. This plan has now been submitted more than 200 times. Despite its appeal, it deserves to fail for removing entirely the incentive and accountability of reelection.
The issues of term limits and term lengths are related but different. The three-year cycle is anchored by acceptance of the two-term limit for president imposed by the 22nd Amendment. The benefits of the proposal, however, are derived by the change in term lengths: a first term of six years followed by a second term of three years.
The Permanent Campaign has become both permanent -- the next election cycle begins before the prior one ends -- and about campaigning (it originally referred to a style of governing). It repels the governed and eats at our time as much as it skews governing policies and leaves officeholders with less time to govern.
The 22nd Amendment, adopted in 1951, limits presidents to two terms. It is not the cause of lame-duck second terms but it exacerbates the problem. Other factors that diminish presidential performance in years 5-8 include social and technological change, voting behavior and the news cycle. We now expect and accept less from presidents in their second terms.
In the second-term midterm elections, we repudiate the president we reelected just two years before. This "six-year itch" election (credit: Kevin Phillips) is so predictable that we can't help but question the merits of reelection being conducted at the "four-year crutch."
The structure of our democracy has multiple aspects. Its constitutional electoral components include voting, the Electoral College, term limits and term lengths. Federalism affects where structural and quasi-structural issues are addressed (e.g., voting and redistricting), and some matters can be addressed through constitutional change or statute (e.g., voting and campaign finance). Processes, such as for congressional and presidential nominations and even taxation can appear structural. These topics will be addressed in future blog posts and articles.
Rick worked for 40 years at nonprofit organizations in Washington, DC, including the Eisenhower Institute, the American Society of International Law and the Center for Responsive Politics (now OpenSecrets). He graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a BA in political science from George Washington University and earned an MBA from the University of Maryland.
He serves on the Advisory Council of the Election Reformers Network.
Rick's participation in and close observation of Washington politics over four decades led him to examine non-partisan, foundational issues, beginning with the Permanent Campaign. Today he is focusing on constitutional electoral structure, as presented on this website.
If you want to reach out to Rick directly, whether about a blog post, one of his articles, the 3-year election cycle, or the Bill of Structures, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2018 Rick LaRue - All Rights Reserved.