The 2020 election cycle is underway, with federal, state and local election candidates and issues headed for the ballots.
All U.S. citizens should exercise their franchise to vote. It’s one of the fundamental rights of American citizenship and an important civic responsibility. Service members and civilian government employees may express their political viewpoints and support candidates of their choosing. When questions arise about what is permissible and prohibited with regard to a specific political activity, the Hatch Act is the sole source of information.
U.S. service members and civilians are limited when it comes to political activities. Some restrictions are based in federal law, others in military regulations. The 1939 Hatch Act is based on an 1801 executive order by President Thomas Jefferson. Since 1939, military personnel and federal employees have been subject to restricted election season activities to avoid the implication of partisan federal endorsement of candidates or issues. Service members and Department of Defense civilians need to know about the Hatch Act before engaging in political activities. As a representative of the DoD, the goal is to avoid the appearance that the military is sponsoring a specific candidate, party, campaign or cause.
Military and DoD civilians shouldn’t participate in partisan political activities that imply or appear to imply DoD sponsorship, approval, or endorsement. Ignorance of the law is no excuse for service members to wear their uniforms at partisan political or for federal employees to imply their agency supports a particular cause or candidate–don’t run afoul of the regulations while supporting favorite causes or candidates. The main purpose for these restrictions is to avoid the implication or inference that military members represent some official point of view.
The major military prohibition is against any type of partisan activities. A partisan activity is defined as “activity directed toward the success or failure of a [particular] political party or candidate for a partisan political office or partisan political group.”
The law’s purpose is to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion, to protect federal employees from political coercion in the workplace, and to ensure that federal employees are advanced based on merit and not based on political affiliation.
If service members express their own personal views on public issues or candidates via social media, they must clearly state that those are the individual’s views and not the DoD’s.
The following are excerpts from DoD Directive 1344.10. The entire directive can be found on the Federal Voting Assistance Program website.
A member of the Armed Forces on active duty shall not:
- Participate in partisan political fundraising activities (read the directive for exceptions).
- Use official authority or influence to interfere with an election, affect the course or outcome of an election, solicit votes for a particular candidate or issue, or require or solicit political contributions from others.
- Serve in any official capacity with or be listed as a sponsor of a partisan political club.
- Speak before a partisan political gathering, including any gathering that promotes a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.
- Participate in any radio, television, or other program or group discussion as an advocate for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or cause.
- Conduct a political opinion survey under the auspices of a partisan political club or group or distribute partisan political literature.
- Perform clerical or other duties for a partisan political committee or candidate during a campaign, on an election day, or after an election day during the process of closing out a campaign.
- Solicit or otherwise engage in fundraising activities in Federal offices or facilities, including military reservations, for any political cause or candidate.
- March or ride in a partisan political parade.
- Display a large political sign, banner, or poster (as distinguished from a bumper sticker) on a private vehicle.
- Display a partisan political sign, poster, banner, or similar device visible to the public at one’s residence on a military installation, even if that residence is part of a privatized housing development.
- Attend partisan political events as an official representative of the Armed Forces, except as a member of a joint Armed Forces color guard at the opening ceremonies of the national conventions of the Republican, Democratic, or other political parties recognized by the Federal Elections Committee or as otherwise authorized by the Secretary concerned.
- Commissioned officers shall not use contemptuous words.
- Subject to any other restrictions in law, a member of the Armed Forces not on active duty may take the actions or participate in the activities permitted in subparagraph 4.1.1., and may take the actions and participate in the activities prohibited in subparagraph 4.1.2, provided the member is not in uniform and does not otherwise act in a manner that could reasonably give rise to the inference or appearance of official sponsorship, approval, or endorsement.
Rock your vote!
Your vote is important, so make it count. Learn about voting while overseas, election deadlines, how to find your registrar and more about the Hatch Act, call the USAG Stuttgart’s Voting Assistance Office at 431-2865 or 07031-15-2865. To register to vote and request an absentee ballot while overseas, check registration deadlines and find online tools available for your state vote via absentee ballot, visit www.FVAP.gov.
(Editor’s note: Information for this article came from FVAP; Fort Rucker VAO; and past Stuttgart Citizen articles.)