Your purge is clumsy and obvious


The party affiliation on your voter registration card could block you from employment at Iowa’s state universities were a newly proposed bill by Senator Mark Chelgren to become law. Senate File 288, proposed by the Ottumwa legislator, could bring about a Soviet-style purge of liberal-leaning college staff in Iowa. Chelgren wants to impose an ideological litmus test in order to create a “partisan balance,” based on how Iowa has voted in past elections.

The legislation proposes that a “person shall not be hired as a professor or instructor member of the faculty at such an institution if the person’s political party affiliation on the date of hire would cause the percentage of faculty belonging to one political party to exceed by ten percent the percentage of faculty belonging to the other political party.”

I’ve been through a few job searches. We are not allowed to ask about personal matters: no conversations about family, sexual preference, religion, or political affiliation. We are supposed to judge the ability of the person to do the job entirely on their ability to do the job. It will sometimes come up if the job candidate brings it up, but we do not get to use that information at all in our evaluation. If I even tried to make a comment in our recommendation like “We should hire because they are a nice liberal atheist lesbian who hates Trump almost as much as I do!”, or “We should not hire because they voted against my interests”, I would probably get hauled up in front of a review committee and chastised, not to mention that if that comment were revealed to any of the other candidates who did not get the job, I’d get my butt sued.

Chelgren doesn’t have a clue about how university hiring works. He’s a Republican, of course.


  1. carlie says

    Ah, but the response to “we don’t look at party affiliation in hiring” could be “but that plays a silent role in whether you reappoint them”. Don’t forget their bread and butter is taking affirmative action and applying it to ideologies rather than actual characteristics, as they can’t understand the difference between unjust discrimination based on things you can’t change and social consequences of repugnant beliefs and actions.

    Gosh, I wonder if there are any examples in history of academics being barred from jobs based on political purity? Hm….

  2. whywhywhy says

    He is a business owner himself and thus I wonder what qualifications he considers when hiring?

  3. euclide says

    A quick question to the Americans here.

    What exactly is the point/goal of being registered as a Democrat/Republican/Independant ?

    I’m French, and such registration seems quite strange to me (and in France it’s completely illegal to establish a list of people with political (or religious) affiliation, even for the State)

  4. says

    @5 Well… As near as I can tell, its so that the state can rig the system to only allow two parties to run, the less stable members of said groups know who to not hate (instead of just hating everyone), and so that they can screw with the voting system, so that the “right” people get elected, or, even more commonly, you are not allowed to vote at all, if you might vote for the “wrong party”.

    The argument for this last one is pure modern Rethuglican – “If we let those damn liberals vote for which one of our candidate’s is the one in the lead for office we wouldn’t be able to push for a psychotic lunatic, with fundamentalist leanings. We might, instead, get someone rational.” Mind, the Democrats demonstrated this desire too, when torpedoing Sanders (never mind by picking Clinton to run as their chosen leader, instead of giving us options), but every place that has the rule, in law, that you can’t vote in the main election, unless you vote in the primary, but that, in the primary you are *only* allowed to vote for your own party, is a state which passed this BS under Republican control. That their “opposition”, when handed tools to screw us, are perfectly happy to take advantage of them, to get their way, is just proof positive that both parties need to be disbanded.

  5. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    another example of paranoia.
    They seem yo be assuming that IF the vast majority of Professors lean left, they will start indoctrinating their students with leftist ideals and promote demonstrations and revolt against the Right leaning administration. or some such. Seems they are trying to prevent what they themselves cling to; ie indoctrination. They just want their own kind of indoctrination not the opposition.
    It is paranoia to assume this is possible when there are many other factors leading to left leaning professors, not as some sort of cabal, just rational thinking leads people to be more accepting of free thought.
    My own paranoia saw the “blance” word and harks back to FauxNoise slogan (which will remain unsaid)
    sheesh 45 is giving license to all sorts of unethical behavior with the marginal faux excuse of “45 agrees with it”

  6. unclefrogy says

    ghee I am so surprised a republican would propose such an absurd law.
    I wonder if he would like the same law applied to all civil service jobs as well?
    How would he like it if the law was applied to private businesses too?

    How is it that these “conservative” politicians never seem to think past the first sentence of the ides they come up with?
    uncle frogy

  7. says

    we need to start wearing either a donkey or an elephant sewn on our clothing.
    and also identify our party and religion on our drivers licenses so that hospital staff can decide the level of aid they are going to provide.

  8. Scott Simmons says

    Well, this could be an interesting lesson in the law of unintended consequences.

    Without the law: liberal faculty have no effective means to block conservative Republicans from being hired.

    With the law: liberal faculty can deny positions to conservatives by registering as Republicans. “Sorry, this campus’s faculty is already 70% Republican–only applications from Democrats are being considered.”

    Bonus: they could then vote against Chelgren twice–once in the Republican primary, and again in the general election.

  9. Becca Stareyes says

    Not to mention how easy it is to change one’s party affiliation without changing anything about one’s politics. As folks have said upthread, it’s a matter of which primary you get to vote in and who sends you annoying spam. I could go out and register as a Republican right now, and it wouldn’t change my politics.

  10. Usernames! (╯°□°)╯︵ ʎuʎbosıɯ says

    What exactly is the point/goal of being registered as a Democrat/Republican/Independant ?
    — euclide (#5)

    In some states, the primaries are closed. That is, one can only vote in primary for the party in which one is registered.

    It also (might) matter for the purposes of caucusing. Every state + party is different, so I will talk about Texas Dems:

    After the primary election, there is a Democrat precinct caucus. It includes whomever is registered Democrat who happened to stick around after the polls close. 2008 and before it was dead – maybe 5-7 people. (2012 we were flooded by people, but that is another story.) Everyone votes for their favorite candidate, the numbers are counted and paperwork is filled out. Due to the low turnout, everyone gets a slot at County Caucus. The whole thing takes about 1 hr.

  11. blf says

    I thought Republicans hated affirmative action?

    Not for whites!

    You have to be the correct kind of white; e.g., a male billionaire not named Soros.

  12. johnlee says

    #euclide and #(╯°□°)╯︵ ʎuʎbosıɯ

    I am assuming the European equivalent would be being a member of that party.

    Please correct me if I’m wrong:

    Political parties in Europe are theoretically funded by subscriptions paid by the members of the party. They have a right to vote in internal Party matters. Extra donations are paid for by whoever wants to buy the politicians in question, and in some counties there is a rarely-enforced legal limit to spending.

    Political parties in the US are paid for by whoever wants to buy the politicians in question, and financial limits would be decidedly Un-American. If you are registered as a Republican/Democrat, you get to vote in the Primaries, but that’s about it.


  13. quatguy says

    I am with #5. Being a Canadian, I have never understood the willingness of Americans to put their party affiliation on a formal government list. Seems contrary to my general perception (stereotype?) of your craving for independence, freedom and apparent abhorrence of “government interference”. I generally understand your primary system but still does not make sense to me. Two party system restricts your freedom and having to “register” to participate in democracy seems crazy. Here, while I believe you are required to be a party member to participate in selecting who will represent each party in the election, I do not believe that there is a government list of your political persuasion.

  14. iknklast says

    That bill will play havoc with those economics departments.

    And what about my field? In my school there was a total of one (yes, only 1 in a large school) Republican student in the Environmental Science department. That wasn’t because we refused to let Republicans in; they simply weren’t interested. The field has low pay and low prestige, coupled with a lot of hard work. For people who want money and prestige, you are not going to find them in Liberal Arts, or in Environmental Science. You’re going to find them in Economics, Business, or maybe Medicine.

  15. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    I thought Republicans hated affirmative action?

    Damnit. Beat me to it. First post too. Kudos.

  16. jim959 says

    > What exactly is the point/goal of being registered as a Democrat/Republican/Independant ?
    > — euclide (#5)

    US political parties are private organizations. Today, some of their activities are regulated by law (so semi-private). The parties set their own rules for picking candidates. The party organizations put forward a slate of candidates and they are voted on in the general election. Originally, party candidate selection was done by party leaders, and for President by party-appointed delegates to a presidential nominating convention. Over time, the parties moved to using a primary election to vote for the party’s candidates, and as the US had two main parties, they set up a system to have the government run and pay for their primary elections. The presidential nominating conventions still use delegates, with some delegates picked by the party and some selected in state primary elections. Initially, these primary elections were limited to party members, so the government needed to know a voter’s party membership to run the primary election. Today, some states let any voter vote in a party’s primary election (open primary), or let voters pick/change party the day of the election (semi-open), while others require pre-registration (closed primary). Election rules are typically set at the state level, so they vary from place to place. Also, some localities are completely dominated by one party, so the primary election is the contended election with the winner easily winning the general election.

  17. Kimberly Dick says

    Well, this would be a good way to lower the quality of their university staff. Fortunately I suspect it’s utterly unenforceable.

  18. William Clark says

    I think the only thing I can add to the party registration explanation is despite them being a party function, you still only get one vote across the government-managed ones. So for example, I walk into my normal polling location on primary day, and after the volunteer checks my name against the government-maintained voting rolls, I get the government-produced ballot for the party I’m registered with, which after I fill out goes into the common ballot box. In NH at least you’d be forgiven for mistaking primaries as being a typical election except for the odd rules.

  19. jrkrideau says

    # 5 euclide

    What exactly is the point/goal of being registered as a Democrat/Republican/Independant ?

    And it’s just as strange to someone in Canada as it is to someone from France. The US political system is very strange to just about anyone who is not a USAian. For anyone used to “normal” political parties the American system is bizarre but perhaps someone here can explain it so we foreigners have some chance of grasping it.

    And trying to figure out the primaries is just about impossible.

    @ 18 johnlee

    I am assuming the European equivalent would be being a member of that party.

    I’m Canadian but I’ve had this ‘discussion’ before and I am pretty sure you assumption is wrong. I’m not even sure the USA has parties the way we would think of them and registering as an XX seems to be a government admin function not a party function.

  20. futurechemist says

    Not a lawyer, but this seems unconstitutional in that it violates freedom of assembly and/or speech. Especially if it boils down to a college saying “At the present time we are not considering employment by registered Democrats”.

  21. mothra says

    Around 25 years ago, the state board of higher education in ND, was debating a policy requiring new employees to sign a government loyalty oath as a condition for employment (not at all surprising in lieu of current ND politics). Fortunately, virtually everybody howled and the idea was dropped. The Iowa proposal, now that it is out in the open, might well be copied by the ND legislature- which is still in session. They have already set new lows in racism, misogyny, inhumanity and simple stupidity.

    I had thought they had reached their nadir 4 years ago when they 1) spent a session working out ways to save the UND logo, 2) cut oil taxes, 3) voted down a program that would have provided milk in school to children of poor families and- one state legislator- 4) got on a local radio station and told his constituents to spray their crops with sugar water, because insects do not have a pancreas and, why all this fancy research when insect control is so simple. In ND at least, the path to Trump has historical roots.

  22. says

    It’s even dumber than you think, PZ. The law mandates that somebody from the Elections Office will turn over voter registration records so the hiring people can check whether applicants are telling the truth.

    So this provincial nitwit things one of two really dumb things (aside from the obvious): either (1) all applicants for jobs in Iowa are from Iowa; or (2) elections boards from other states are going to comply with his temper tantrum.

  23. daemonios says

    I second the feeling of euclide (#5) regarding voter registration in the USA. I simply can’t wrap my head around the concept. There is simply so much wrong with this, I can’t believe it’s 2017 and it’s still in use.

    In Portugal you’re automatically registered to vote if you’re a Portuguese national. Only foreign residents, or Portuguese nationals living abroad, have to choose whether they wish to register. The place where you vote depends on the address you’ve given to tax authorities, i.e. your official address. You never ever ever have to state your political affiliation, for any purpose whatsoever. Data on political affiliation that is lawfully collected is considered sensitive personal data, on par with religious affiliation or health information, and subject to even stricter rules than non-sensitive personal data.

    As for closed primaries being one of the reasons given for voter registration with party affiliation, I call bull*****. Primaries are an internal affair of a given party. It should be up to the party structure to determine who can vote for its internal elections and how to check that voters have the right to vote. Any procedure for this purpose should have exactly zero bearing on actual local/state/federal elections. There should be no conflation between party primaries and official elections, since parties are not branches of government in any sense.

  24. Andrew Dalke says

    It would really mess things up should a third-party or independent have a strong showing, because this law defines partisan balance as between the two major parties from the most recent gubernatorial or presidential race.

    The independent candidate Bill Walker won the 2014 Alaska gubernatorial election, with a Republican second and Libertarian third. If the same happened under this proposed Iowa law then the partisan balance would be between the Republican and Libertarians. No Republican could be hired until enough Libertarians are hired to be within 10%. (Or when Jesse Ventura won Minnesota in 1998, no Republicans could be hired until enough Reform Party candidates were hired.)

    The bill describes what to do with those who don’t have a party membership, but doesn’t describe how to handle people with a third party membership. There seems to be no problem hiring members of the Green Party, for example.

  25. Demeisen says

    The next step, I’m sure, is to require that the “balance of power,” so to speak, go to the party that wins overall. Or even to proportion faculty political views by county, in keeping with the great American tradition of land mattering more, overall, than people.

  26. jim959 says

    The US was founded by men who decided that the country shouldn’t have political parties. This idea was a complete failure, and parties soon arose, but there was no planned government structure for them. So the US party system grew in an ad hoc fashion. The US constitution was also designed to reject democratic rule, and instead install a sectionally brokered rule of male, property owning aristocrats. The system was also set up to have a weak central government with many veto points and a explicit rejection of the Parlimentary govt model, to keep the South from ever facing laws made by Northerns. The US was one of the earliest democracies, and these early missteps never got fixed. Voting in the US was always a contested issue, with 100 years of anti-democratic political control through voting restrictions after the civil war ended in 1865. And citizenship/voting rejection was also a factor in the century-long Native American genocide.

  27. rietpluim says

    Sorry Americans, but your voting system is seriously screwed up. The fact alone that one has to register to vote is a disgrace, but registering ones party affiliation?

    Are you expected to vote for one party for the whole of your life?

  28. daemonios says

    rietpluim @34:

    To be fair, I think you’re over-simplifying. Voters are always registered somehow. As I said in my earlier post, in Portugal this is done ex officio by a governmental department for Portuguese nationals living in Portugal, or by request in the case of foreigners and Portuguese national living abroad. The problems with USA voter registration (in my only slightly informed view) are twofold:

    The first problem is the involvement of political parties in voter registration. AFAIK parties can solicit voters to register and submit registration forms to whatever authority keeps tabs. I’ve read stories about registration forms conveniently forgotten, which is a serious risk because it means people who thought they were able to vote will in fact not be on voter records.

    The second problem is the registration of political affiliation. In modern democracies, votes for public elections are secret in order to prevent undue pressure on voters. By registering an affiliation, this secrecy is at the very least eroded. By maintaining records of said affiliation, you open the door to retaliation against sympathisers of a given party, e.g. through undue access/disclosure of these records.

    As for your last sentence, I don’t think you’re forced to vote for the party of your affiliation. If you register as a Democrat you may not be able to vote on a Republican closed primary (which, again, I think is an internal issue of the party and should never be confused with a public election). But come election day nobody can check which candidate or measure you vote for.

  29. rietpluim says

    Well, maybe I’m over-simplifying because voting IS simple in my home country. Voter registration is completely automatic and not vulnerable to abuse. Everyone who’s eligible to vote gets his voting pass sent home. This pass and an ID are all you need to enter the voting booth. IMHO the ID is an unnecessary obstacle, but at least it does not advantage or disadvantage any political party.

  30. tkreacher says

    carlie #2

    Don’t forget their bread and butter is taking affirmative action and applying it to ideologies rather than actual characteristics, as they can’t understand the difference between unjust discrimination based on things you can’t change and social consequences of repugnant beliefs and actions.

    Just yesterday I caught a video of Alex Jones sending an “urgent message” to Donald Trump. It was full of his usual madman rantings, but the thrust of it was something about how advertisers were discriminating against his show and calling it “fake news”, or whatever.

    And he launched into a diatribe about how, by refusing to giving him advertising deals, companies like Google were doing exactly the same kind of thing that used to be done to blacks by not allowing them to eat at the counter or use the restroom, and exactly the same as women not being able to vote.

    You just reminded me of that.

  31. shadow says

    In Washington (the state, not the District) the Voter’s Pamphlet states that you register as a voter. Caucus / primary time is when you decide which way to go for that election cycle.

    I grew up in Oregon. They have the closed primary system (at least when I lived there, they now are automatically registering you to vote, not sure how the parties get decided). I always registered as an Independent / no preference. My father (aunts/uncles/grandparents) kept saying “You can’t vote in the primaries, so you’re wasting your registration.”

    I always felt that, if the parties want to select who to put forward in any election cycle, they (not the state) should foot the bill — especially in a closed primary system. Why should I, an Independent, pay for their selection group-grope?

  32. richardh says

    rietpluim@34 “The fact that one has to register to vote” – active voice
    daemonios@35 “Voters are always registered somehow” – passive voice
    And that’s the key difference.
    Here in the UK it’s much the same as rietpluim describes:
    Registration is (mostly) automatic and passive.
    Party members influence how the party chooses its candidates for elected office.
    Party membership is a private matter.
    Anyone can stand for election whether they belong to a party or not.
    Voters can vote for any candidate, regardless of party affiliations

  33. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    As shadow notes, even in states with party registration there’s always an option to register as an independent, and there’s never an obligation to vote in a primary or to vote for a specific party in the general. However, one aspect to keep in mind is that large swathes of the country are essentially one-party states, which means that primaries (or caucuses) are essentially the only opportunity to make a real choice, and yet even fewer voters participate in those than in the general elections. Where we live, that means that pretty much anyone the Dems nominate for any office up to the level of US Rep is guaranteed to win the general election. Fortunately the Dems around here are fairly progressive and scandal-free, but in a lot of places that is a recipe for extremism and corruption.