As they head to the polls Aug. 4 for the Missouri Primary, many voters may not realize that military service members and federal workers are subject to special rules and restrictions covering political activity during election season.
The Hatch Act, a federal law passed in 1939, limits the political activities of nearly all federal workers, including DoD employees. While they are encouraged to fulfill their civic duty to vote, the law prohibits federal workers from any activity, “directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office or partisan political group,” according to the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.
That means federal workers are barred from performing campaign-related activities, distributing campaign materials, making political contributions on government time or by using government equipment.
According to the OSC, those prohibitions also apply online, meaning that when in “pay status, other than paid leave” or any time they’re representing the government in an official capacity, federal employees aren’t allowed to use government computers to send or forward political content, post such content on social media sites or post comments on blogs or articles to advocate for a candidate, political party or political group.
The purpose of the Hatch Act is three-fold, according to the OSC: first, to ensure that federal programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion; secondly, to protect federal workers from political coercion in the workplace; and, finally, to ensure that federal workers are advanced based on merit and not political affiliation.
All federal civilian executive branch employees are covered by the Hatch Act, including employees of the U.S. Postal Service. Even part-time employees are included, and all employees continue to be covered while on annual leave, sick leave, leave without pay or furlough.
Active duty service members, meanwhile, have their own set of rules in Department of Defense Directive 1344.10, “Political Activities for Members of the Armed Forces.” Under that directive, members of the armed forces:
— Are prohibited from engaging in political activity while in uniform.
— Are prohibited from wearing military uniforms at political campaigns or election events. This applies to both active duty and retired members of the armed services.
Service members should avoid any activity that creates the inference that their political activities imply or appear to imply approval, endorsement or sponsorship by the DoD of any political candidate, party, campaign or cause.
Members of the National Guard and the Reserve are both subject to the Hatch Act and may fall under different portions of the DoD Directive, depending on their deployment status.
Need more information?
The OSC provides an overview of the Hatch Act on its website: https://osc.gov/Services/Pages/HatchAct.aspx.
The Federal Voting Assistance Program site also has links to the Hatch Act and DoD Directive 1344.10 online at https://www.fvap.gov/info/laws/political-activities.