Armed Forces News

Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar, October 2008: Army Maj. Ashantas Cornelius, from Macon, Ga., fills out her absentee ballot form while Pfc. Crystal Miller, from Auburn, N.Y., looks for her city’s mailing address during a voting assistance drive operating out of the base dining facility. (Army photo by Dustin Senger)

With election season well underway in a tense political climate, service members and DoD civilians are being reminded they are bound by certain prohibitions on political activity.

Both active-duty service members and civilian employees must understand federal rules and DoD policies pertaining to political activities, Defense Secretary Mark Esper emphasized in a video address.


“The Department of Defense has a longstanding and well-defined policy regarding political campaigns and elections to avoid the perception of DOD sponsorship, approval or endorsement of any political candidate, campaign or cause,” according to a 2020 DOD Public Affairs Guidance for Political Campaigns and Elections memorandum issued in February.

“The department encourages and actively supports its personnel in their civic obligation to vote, but makes clear members of the armed forces on active duty should not engage in partisan political activities,” the memo said.

Service members and employees should direct any questions to their supervisors or supporting legal office.

Civilian Hatch Act Policy

Under the Hatch Act, federal employees – including DoD civilian personnel – and certain state and local government employees face restrictions on their ability to participate in political activities.

The Act is enforced by the Office of Special Counsel. That office issues advisories for employees who are uncertain whether their activities fall under the law’s coverage.
Amendments in 1993 allowed many federal employees to take a more active part in political management or in political campaigns. However, certain federal agencies and categories of employees continue to be covered by the tighter restrictions on political activities predating that reform.

More specific detail on the Hatch Act how it applies here: Hatch Act and Politics in Government

Military Policy

Members of the armed forces are encouraged to carry out the obligations of citizenship while keeping with the traditional concept that members on active duty should not engage in partisan political activity, according to Directive 1344.10, Political Activities for Members of the Armed Forces.

However, it states that all members of the armed forces, including active-duty members, members of the reserve components not on active duty, and retired members are prohibited from wearing military uniforms at political campaign or election events.

“Maintaining the hard-earned trust and confidence of the American people requires us to avoid any action that could imply endorsement of a political party, political candidate or campaign by any element of the department,” Secretary Esper said.

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