It's election season again – that time when federal, state and local political campaigns kick into high gear. Whether you're extremely involved in politics or you aren’t even registered to vote, the Defense Department has expectations for the way its military service members and civilian employees conduct themselves during this time.
Here are some of the most notable guidelines:
Active-duty military and civilian employees are encouraged to take part in their civic duty by voting. In fact, DOD voting assistance is provided through the Federal Voting Assistance Program.
Service members can attend rallies, debates, conventions, political club meetings and fundraising events – but only as a spectator. Members of the Armed Forces – active duty, Reserve, Guard or retired – cannot wear their uniforms at these events, unless they're members of the color guard at a national convention.
DOD employees are also allowed to make personal monetary donations and express their personal opinions on candidates and issues, but service members just can’t do so as a representative of the Armed Forces.
Employees can write letters to the editor of a news outlet expressing their personal views -- as long as they're not part of an organized letter-writing campaign or are soliciting votes for a party, cause or candidate. Most importantly, the letter must make it clear that the views expressed are solely the writer's and NOT those of the DOD.
DOD personnel can put their favorite party, cause or candidate's bumper sticker on their car, but no large political signs, banners or posters can be displayed on their car or home. This includes those who live on a military installation in a privatized housing development.
Service members and civilian employees are to refrain from partisan political activities. Any political activity they take part in should – as stated above -- clearly avoid implying DOD sponsorship, approval or endorsement of a candidate, campaign or cause.
Prohibited activities include:
- Campaigning for a candidate
- Soliciting contributions
- Marching in a partisan parade
- Writing signed partisan political articles, letters or endorsements in an attempt to solicit votes
- Performing any duty for a political committee or candidate during a campaign
Your actions online can affect your career and the DOD just as much as they can in person. That's why the department also issues guidelines for active duty service members, active duty National Guardsmen and federal employees.
DOD employees are allowed to express their own views on issues and candidates, like in a letter to a news outlet. However, if they are identified on their account as active-duty, the post MUST say that the views expressed are their own and not those of the DOD.
DOD personnel shouldn't participate in partisan political activities online, either, which includes posting direct links to a political party, candidate, campaign, group or cause. That's considered the equivalent of distributing literature on behalf of those entities, which is prohibited.
Similarly, service members and civilian employees can "friend," "follow" or "like" a political party, candidate or cause, but they can't engage in political activities on those pages. For example, they can't suggest that others "like," "friend" or "follow" that page, and they can't forward an invitation or solicitation from that page to others.
Active duty members are subject to additional restrictions based on Joint Ethics Regulations, the Uniform Code of Military Justice and service-specific rules.
Service members who aren’t on active-duty are NOT subject to the above restrictions, but they are required to make it clear that their actions are their own and not endorsed, approved or sponsored by the DOD.
When Can Candidates or Officials Visit Military Facilities?
Political candidates and other elected or appointed officials may access DOD installations and facilities to conduct official business or various other activities. However, they are NOT allowed to engage in campaign or election-related activities, including:
- Town hall meetings
- Public assemblies
- News conferences
- Post-election celebrations or concession addresses
This restriction applies to overseas installations and areas under control of U.S. military combat or peacekeeping forces.
For more in-depth do's and don'ts concerning political activities, check out DOD Directive 1344.10.