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Rules restrict political activity by Washington National Guard personnel

With the 2020 election season in full swing – and Washington state general election is just around the corner on November 3 – federal employees and uniformed service members are encouraged to exercise their right to vote.

However, there are limits to what kind of political activity they can participate in prior to an election.

The limitations of participation are set forth in the Hatch Act for federal employees and Department of Defense Directive 1344.10 for active-duty service members.

Generally, these regulations state that federal employees and service members acting in their official capacity may not engage in activities that associate the Department of Defense with any partisan political campaign or elections, candidate, cause or issue.

The Hatch Act allows most federal employees to actively participate in political activities on their own time and outside of the workplace. There are, however, significant restrictions on fundraising, running for office in partisan elections and using one's official authority in the political arena.

“The Hatch Act is designed to guard against the misuse of federal employment to promote partisan politics,” said Lt. Col. Alex Straub, an attorney and legal adviser in the Washington National Guard’s Office of the Staff Judge Advocate at Camp Murray.

The Hatch Act has no effect on anyone’s right to register and vote, Straub said, and it does not apply to contractors or retirees.

Under DOD Directive 1344.10, members of the armed forces who are on active duty are permitted to express their personal opinions on political candidates, make a monetary contribution to a campaign, sign a petition to place a candidate's name on the ballot and attend a political event as a spectator.

Service members may not participate in partisan activities such as soliciting or engaging in partisan fundraiser activities, serving as the sponsor of a partisan club or speaking before a partisan gathering. In addition, all military members, including National Guard and Reserve forces, are prohibited from wearing military uniforms at political campaign events.

“The Hatch Act forbids running in a partisan election but not a non-partisan one,” Straub said. “A non-partisan race is simply one in which candidates do not file under a party label.”

Neither the Hatch Act nor DoD Directive 1344,10 restricts placing yard signs in front of one’s home, Straub said.

“Freedom of speech allows you to place any yard signs and flag you wish at your home unless they live on post, then garrison regulations can restrict such displays,” he said.

An employee who violates the Hatch Act is subject to a range of disciplinary actions, including removal or debarment from federal service, reduction in grade, suspension, letter of reprimand or a fine of up to $1,000, Straub said.

Related Links:

Ethical Conduct and Political Activities 

Political Activities by Members of the Armed Forces

Limitations on Political Activities for Army Personnel

The Army's Commitment to Ethical Conduct

Required Training - Ethical Conduct

Leader-Led Ethics Training