Understanding the Hatch Act during election season

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This is a big year for federal, state, and local elections.  Caucuses and primaries have already begun for the presidential election and will continue through the November general election.  As the election process continues, please remember that all military personnel and civilian employees in the executive branch are covered by the Hatch Act.  For AGR, ART, and civilian personnel, the Hatch Act applies at all times.  For TR’s, it applies while in a duty status.

The Hatch act restricts political activities by executive-branch employees, and states they may not engage in a number of activities.

Covered employees may not use their official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the result of an election. This “may not” list includes the following:

• Using official titles or positions while engaged in political activity.

• Inviting subordinates to political events or otherwise suggesting to subordinates that they attend political events or undertake a partisan political activity.

• Soliciting, accepting, or receiving a donation or contribution for a partisan political party, candidate, or group. This includes hosting a political fundraiser and inviting others to a political fundraiser.

• For AGR, ART, and civilian employees, being candidates for public office in partisan political elections.  TR’s may be a candidate for public office, but may not campaign while in duty status.

• Campaigning for or against a candidate for partisan political office or a partisan political group while on duty, in any federal office or building, while wearing a uniform or official insignia, or using any federally owned or leased vehicle. This includes things such as distributing, displaying, or wearing campaign materials or items; making contributions to a partisan political party, candidate or group; posting a comment to a blog or a social media site that advocates for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or group; and using any e-mail account or social media to distribute, send, or forward content that advocates for or against a partisan political party, candidate, or group.

So, with such a long list of “may not’s,” what can executive branch employees do?  The Hatch Act allows employees to do the following so long as there is no use of one’s official position and the activity is not taken while on duty, in a federal office or building, or while in uniform:

  Running for public office in nonpartisan elections.

• Registering and voting as they choose.

• Assisting in voter registration drives.

• Contributing money to political campaigns, parties, or groups.

• Attending political fundraising functions, rallies, and meetings.

  Having an active membership in political clubs or parties.

  Holding office in political clubs or parties.

  Signing and circulating nominating petitions.

  Campaigning for or against referendum questions, constitutional amendments, or municipal ordinances.

  Distributing campaign literature in partisan elections.

  Volunteering to work on a partisan political campaign.

  Expressing opinions about candidates and issues, subject to UCMJ Article 88 which prevents commissioned officers from using contemptuous words against the President, Vice President, SECDEF, SECAF (and the other service secretaries), the Secretary of Homeland Security, Congress, or the Governor of the state in which the officer is stationed.

If you have any question about the Hatch Act’s “may’s” and “may not’s,” contact Lt. Col. Alan Goodwin at james.goodwin.1@us.af.mil.