Service members reminded of election-season rules

By Capt. Aaron Lancaster (U.S. Army)
Stuttgart Law Center

Editor’s Note: This is the first installment in a two-part series addressing what service members and Defense Department civilian employees can and can’t do in regards to political activities.

With the economy still struggling to recover, unemployment hovering around 9-10 percent, and the federal deficit continuing to grow, more and more Americans have begun to take an interest in the presidential and congressional elections next year.
Elections allow Americans to give a voice to their thoughts and beliefs, shape the future and show the elected officials whether they approve or disapprove of the choices the government has made. Department of Defense employees, including military members and civilians, are often more involved in politics than the average American.

Many Defense Department employees though, are unaware that they must participate within specific guidelines and that non-compliance could get them fired.  In addition, service members may be punished under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.     

While the Hatch Act governs political activities for federal employees, it does not apply to service members. Instead, DOD Directive 1344.10 governs political activities by military members. 

Before writing a check out to a favorite candidate or peppering the housing area with campaign fliers, military members should understand the laws and regulations that outline what constitutes appropriate participation in the political process.
According to Directive 1344.10, service members are allowed to register, vote and express their personal opinions on political candidates and issues. They are allowed to join a political party, attend political party meetings and encourage others to vote. 

They can write and send letters to the editor of a newspaper expressing their personal views on public issues or political candidates, and make monetary contributions to a political organization, party, or committee favoring a particular candidate or political party. They can also display a single (small) political bumper sticker on their car.

But service members are prohibited (either in or out of uniform) from participating in political fundraising activities, rallies, conventions (including making speeches), management of campaigns or debates. Participation includes any activity more than mere attendance as a spectator. 

They are also prohibited from attending political functions while in uniform and cannot use their position or rank to influence anyone else, nor can they solicit votes for any particular candidate. 

Participation is prohibited in any radio, television, group discussion or political gathering. Military members also cannot publish articles, letters, or endorsements that attempt to solicit support for a candidate or party or allow someone else to publish their letters. 

They are not allowed to march or ride in political parades or display large political signs, banners or posters on their private vehicle. They are also not allowed to display political signs, posters, or banners, visible to the public, at one’s residence on a military installation.

Failure to comply with DOD Directive 1344.10 can be punished under UCMJ Article 92 for failure to obey an order or regulation.

Keep in mind that the above is not an all-inclusive list of allowed and disallowed activities. For specific questions, contact the Stuttgart Law Center’s Administrative Law section at 421-2817/civ. 0711-729-2817.