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As we enter an election year, servicemembers must get familiar with political activity regulations.

You have the right to have an opinion about politics and to vote. 

Everyone is entitled and encouraged to vote. Nothing in regulations or policy is intended to restrict a servicemember's right and opportunity to vote. However, outside the home and the ballot box, servicemembers need to be aware of restrictions on what they can do and say about an election and where and when they can do or say something election-related.

There are rules for military active and retired personnel

The prime directive is Department of Defense Directive 1344.10 [https://www.esd.whs.mil/Portals/54/Documents/DD/issuances/dodd/134410p.pdf] (Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces).

  • You must also review Department of Defense Instruction 1334.1 (Wearing of the Uniform) and your Service's uniform regulations. Wearing a uniform while engaged in anything related to an election is a NO-NO. You also consider avoiding the wear or display that in some way associates you with the military to avoid an appearance of impropriety.
  • 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.

Caution: Active component retirees are subject to the UCMJ and must abide by these rules to some extent. Officers need to read and understand Article 88, UCMJ [https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/10/888], which prohibits certain conduct and words about various political leaders.

Let's look at some specific points.

If you still need to do so, register to vote. Do this now to avoid delays or problems later. This is especially important in states trying to make voting more difficult.

  • You can vote.
  • Your family can vote.
  • You and your family can encourage friends, neighbors, and teammates to vote.You can tell people what you think of a candidate and their position on issues affecting you, your family, town, state, or the nation. Some people will do that through blogging, social media, or letters to the editor of the local paper.
  • Don't do this in uniform, public, or in a way that identifies you with the military. The goal is to avoid saying and acting as if the military, through you, endorses a particular candidate and wants them to vote for that candidate.
  • You can attend rallies when off duty and NOT in uniform.
  • You can sign petitions. For example, there is a petition against specific actions being taken by the local council that affect your home taxes.
  • You can make donations to a candidate or political party up to a prescribed legal limit.
  • It would help if you did not display offensive bumper stickers or wear offensive T-shirts when your military affiliation is also shown. Generally, bumper stickers not allowed in federal workspaces can be displayed on a personal vehicle parked in a government parking lot – with a caveat: Only one sticker is allowed per vehicle.If your military affiliation comes out, you must state clearly that your views do not represent the Department of Defense, the Department of Homeland Security, or the Army (or other Service).

What Active Duty Service Members CAN NOT Do:

  • You cannot speak for the DoD, any armed service, or any unit regarding endorsing or voting for elected officials or their party.
  • You cannot be a fundraiser or participate in an election campaign.
  • You must refrain from engaging in election activity on base, including signs and posters in the office or unit.
  • You cannot be a candidate for a political office if you are on active duty or orders.

The Hatch Act (5 U.S.C. 7321-7326) governs political activities by DoD and other federal civilian employees.

Don't forget to check out the DoD Federal Voting Assistance Program. helps you when stationed to exercise your right to vote.

If you think you are in trouble for an election related activity or statement, contact us as experienced military defense counsel.

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