Staying legal this voting season

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., -- With the presidential primaries lurking around the corner, there are a few things Airmen must remember during this upcoming political season.

When joining the military or becoming a federal employee, it is done so with the knowledge this decision comes with some sacrifice.

"Everyone is encouraged to exercise their right to vote," said Sean DeMallie, Beale's Installation Voting Officer. "However, for our democracy to function properly, civilian employees and military personnel cannot be seen as partisans during their official capacity."

Both military members and federal employees work for the government, and, in doing so, they must support elected officials regardless of whether or not they voted for or against particular candidates. For this reason, among others, getting a paycheck directly from the federal government limits a person's ability to participate in some aspects of the political process.

1st Lt. Joy Hewitt, 9th Reconnaissance Wing Judge Advocate Office attorney, suggests Airmen don't take an extreme political stance one way or another while they are in an official capacity. By doing so, they are implying they are endorsing government views.

Department of Defense Directive 1344.10, "Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces on Active Duty," and Air Force Instruction 51-902, "Political Activities by Members of the U.S. Air Force," outline permitted and restricted political actions for active military members. Service members who violate these rules may face punishment under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Military members are prohibited from using official authority to influence an election or solicit votes for a specific candidate or issue.

"It is highly recommended that all political views stay out of the workplace," Hewitt said. "An opinion can be implied as an order and the political view quickly become slated by authority."

Military members are limited in their involvement in the political process off duty as well. This includes being a candidate for, or holding, political office, except in those circumstances authorized by the AFI.

"Although many offices are completely legal to hold, every instance should be cleared through the legal office," she said.

Speaking at any partisan political gathering, including a radio or television program, and advocating for a partisan political candidate or party is also prohibited.

Military members should reference AFI 51-902 when they have any questions regarding the legality of their political activities

Rules governing political activities by government civilians are also restricted.

These rules are found in a federal law known as the Hatch Act. DOD civilians who violate the Hatch Act face adverse personnel actions, including suspensions and employment termination.
Most restrictions surrounding the Hatch Act are centered on the prevention of supervisors influencing subordinates to participate in or contribute to partisan groups or candidates. Federal employees may not display partisan political campaign materials in the workplace.

Hewitt explains civilian employees should follow the same standards as uniformed servicemembers when it comes to the workplace.

"The waters can become muddied quickly without intention," she said. "Just the slightest hint of political sway could quickly turn bad."

While federal employees may express opinions about candidates and issues when off duty, when on duty, in uniform, in a federal building, or in a federally owned or leased vehicle, federal employees may not express opinions directed at the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office or partisan political group.

There are three important things to remember during the upcoming political season. First, regardless of status, using command influence to sway subordinates to vote for a particular party, candidate or issue is prohibited by law or directive.

Second, when you receive a paycheck from the federal government, some aspects of your political freedom are limited.

Third, if you are unsure whether or not a political activity is approved, reference AFI 51-902.

For more information contact the 9th Reconnaissance Wing Legal Office at 634-2928 or your unit voting representative.

(Portions of this article were contributed by 2nd Lt. Abraham Raymond 71st Flying Training Wing Legal Office)