Political season do's and don't's for reservists

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. James Bishop
  • 439th Airlift Wing
WESTOVER AIR RESERVE BASE, Mass. -- With the presidential election upon us, everyone is encouraged to vote – including those in the military. “The Department of Defense has a longstanding policy of encouraging DoD personnel to carry out the obligations of citizenship,” according to DoD officials. However, civil servants and military members are held to a high standard and can’t endorse any party or candidate while on duty.

Military reservists can’t participate in a political gathering in uniform – not on duty, not off duty, and not even after you retire!

Federal employees and military members have an obligation to support elected officials whether or not they voted for them. For this reason, getting a paycheck directly from the federal government limits a person’s ability to participate in some aspects of the political process. The points below are taken from public affairs election-year guidance, which derives from Federal Law such as the Hatch Act, DoD, and Air Force instructions.

Do’s and don’ts for reservists

Unlike their active duty counterparts, reservists who are in military status and not in uniform can participate in the democratic process, including running for elected office, speaking at political gatherings, and speaking on a radio or TV program. As civilians, they may advocate for a political candidate, but they can’t imply DoD, Air Force, or Reserve endorsement of any party or candidate. However, active duty military members (including reservists in military status) are prohibited from engaging in numerous political activities. That means if you’re on orders, you can’t attend a presidential rally. If you’re not on orders or if you’re a DoD civilian, you can. Also, members cannot display large political signs on their vehicle, though they can display a normal-sized political bumper sticker.

To avoid the perception of DoD sponsorship, reservists in military status (and active duty military) may not participate in partisan political clubs, solicit for a political group or march in a political parade on or off duty. Active duty and Reserve military members are also prohibited from using official authority to influence an election or solicit votes for a candidate or issue.

Of course, no one in the military or civil service can use government resources (like email or computers) or government work time to lobby or solicit votes or money for a candidate. Regarding social media, reservists not in military status and civilians have common-sense guidelines: don’t be unprofessional or threatening.

Do’s and don’ts for federal civilians

Rules governing political activities by government civilians are found in the Hatch Act. Most Hatch-Act restrictions are centered on preventing supervisors from influencing subordinates to participate in or contribute to partisan groups or candidates.

Federal employees can’t display political campaign materials in the workplace or express opinions about candidates or issues when on duty. Federal employees may not express opinions directed at the success or failure of a political party or candidate when on duty, in a federal building, or in a federally owned vehicle. DoD civilians who violate the Hatch Act could be suspended or fired.

If you’re unsure whether or not a specific political activity is approved, reference AFI 51-902.