Do’s, don’ts for the election season

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Adam Wietgrefe
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Legal Office

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- With the presidential election looming ever closer, the political season is ramping up. With that in mind, it is important for active-duty Team Vance members to know what political activities they can and cannot do.

It is Air Force policy to encourage active-duty members to exercise their rights and responsibilities as U.S. citizens. While on active duty, however, members are prohibited from engaging in certain political activities in order to maintain good order and discipline, to avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of improper endorsement in political matters.

Here is a short list of do’s and don’ts. For a more comprehensive list, refer to Air Force Instruction 51-902, “Political Activities by Members of the U.S. Air Force,” and Department of Defense Directive 1344.10, “Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces.”

Do’s -- Military members may:

1) Register, vote and express personal opinions on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the armed forces.

2) Make monetary contributions to a political organization.

3) Encourage other military members to exercise their voting rights, however, cannot attempt to influence or interfere with the outcome of an election, nor encourage subordinates to vote for or against a particular issue or candidate.

4) Sign a petition for specific legislative action or a petition to place a candidate's name on an official election ballot, but cannot be identified by rank or duty title.

5) Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper expressing views on public issues or political candidates, if such action is not part of an organized letter-writing campaign. Again, do not identify by rank or duty title. If the nature of the letter will identify the author as a member of the armed forces, the letter should clearly state that the views expressed are not those of the Air Force or Department of Defense.

6) Display a small bumper sticker on a private vehicle.

Don’ts – The following activities are prohibited by the Joint Ethics Regulation, DOD regulations, Air Force instructions and federal law. Violation of these rules may result in criminal penalties or disciplinary action. Military members may not:

1) Use official authority, influence or government resources, including email, to interfere with an election, affect the course or outcome of an election, encourage votes for a particular candidate or issue or ask for political contributions from others.

2) Solicit or fundraise in federal offices, facilities or military reservations for a partisan political cause or candidate.

3) Display a large political sign, banner or poster -- as distinguished from a bumper sticker -- on the top or side of a private vehicle.

4) Participate in any organized effort to provide voters with transportation to the polls if the effort is organized by a partisan political party or candidate.

5) Attend partisan political events as an official representative of the armed forces.

6) Display a partisan political sign, poster, banner or similar device visible to the public at one's residence on a military installation, even if that residence is part of a privatized housing development.

7) Military officers may not publicly disrespect or undermine certain elected officials, federal secretaries or Congress, under Article 88 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice.

The political season is always a crazy time. It can be even more confusing with the added rules and regulations that apply to active-duty military. If you have questions on whether or not a political activity is permitted, reference AFI 51-902 or contact the Vance Legal Office at 580-213-7404.