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Elections Related Activitiy

If you wish to be active in speaking about or engaging in election politics, and you are a member of active, Reserve, or Guard, forces, you should do so basic reading about what is allowed, prohibited, and at times discouraged. An experienced military defense lawyer can help.

It is 2015, the aspirants were talking and promoting themselves. (In 2021) the elections are a little far away but politicians will soon be seeking your support--all want your vote, all want your money, some want your help in their offices or on the campaign trail, and the want you at their political rally's. That means there are potential problems for military personnel (active, Guard, Reserve, or retired) who want to be involved in the political process. 

You may need to talk to an experienced military defense lawyer if you want to do more than vote, give a small donation, or display a sign. There are limits on your political speech and activity that are not their for your neighbor--that is part of what you gave up when you enlisted. This country is against military dictatorships and the like and so the theory is that military members can have their political speech limited somewhat.

Here are (some old) links to an example of how the military member can get in trouble over politics. They present situations that could come up in any election. A military defense lawyer and those familiar with the UCMJ will be able to give more detailed guidance. At election time there is usually someone in your unit giving training, or lectures, or memorandums to help understand what can be a quite complex system of rules and regualtions.

Here are some older reminders

  • Stars & Stripes -- politicking in uniform not allowed. Something similar might happen again. Think about it first. This should be a no-brainer. Any military lawyer will tell you so.
  • Bryant Jordan on Military.com regarding “politicking" of a uniformed Reserve Soldier.

Nothing in the rules or the UCMJ prohibits or restricts a military member:

  • registering to vote
  • voting
  • donating to politicians or political parties

These are personal choices and cannot be punished at court-martial, Article 15, or similar. If that happens then reach out to an experienced military defense lawyer for advice and if necessary, representation.

In fact, does not the military leadership encourage people to exercise their right to vote. (Once I was asked if it was OK to give Sailors time off during the duty hours so they could vote. I think the answer is yes, so long as the opportunity is given to everyone equally. Should you unit do this, don't abuse the privilege and go grocery shopping and to the mall.)

The rules do restrict or limit how military personnel can advocate for a political party, candidate, or elected official.

The greatest restriction is that Active-duty servicemembers are strictly prohibited from campaigning for political office or actively taking part in a political campaign — even behind the scenes. The rules are different for Reserves and Guard personnel not on orders. Here is a situation where I was once asked if a Sailor could help his mother in the campaign office. The answer is no, sorry, it is no. That is actively taking part in a campaign.

Here is a brief explanation of rules from the Department of Defense.

The basic rules are here:

  • DoD Directive 1344.10, Subj: Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces.
  • Air Force Instruction 51-902., Subj: Political Activities by Members of the US Air Force.
  • Army AR 600-200., Subj: Army Command Policy, Para. 5-3, Political Activity, and Appendix B.
  • Coast Guard
  • Navy. SECNAVINST 5720.44, Subj: Public Affairs Policy and Navy Regulations.
  • Marine Corps Order 5370.7B., Subj: Political Activities.

There are various criminal statutes that also affect what, when, where, and how.

  • 2 U.S.C. § 441a. This limits what you can spend or donate to a campaign.
  • 10 U.S.C. § 973: This places restrictions on officers and elections.
  • 18 U.S.C. Chapter 29, Elections and Political Activities; 
  • 18 U.S.C. § 1913.
  • DoD 5500.7-R, Joint Ethics Regulation, Chapters 2, 3, 5 & 6.
  • Article 88, UCMJ.

No commissioned officer can use contemptuous words against the President, the Vice President, Congress, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of a military department, the Secretary of Transportation, or the Governor or legislature of any State, Territory, Commonwealth, or possession in which he is on duty or present.

  • Article 92, UCMJ. Violations of the various regulations and laws will likely be prosecuted under this article as an orders violation.
  • I do not think you can organize a political rally or campaign on base.
  • You cannot be ordered to attend such a function. There have occassionally been questions about politicians visiting base and holding a "rally" or a "meet-and-greet." Commanders need to be careful on what they require of their troops in such situations.
So, you can:

Vote
Express a personal opinion
Donate to a party or candidate
Go to a rally in civilian clothes and without signs, hats, or clothing indicating your military status
Sign a petition
Post on personal social media so long as you are not using your military status, rank, or similar as part of the post. And be careful of language that might get you in trouble with the UCMJ and, worse, a court-martial.

Here is a link for guidance DoD put out for the 2020 campaign--it is useful, read it before you want to do anything more than the short list above to be "political."


Thank you for reading a short note about voting, elections, politics and the UCMJ and military defense counsel.
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