Presidential election: ‘Dos’ and ‘Don’ts’ during election season

PETERSON AR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- Don't let this happen to you!

According to a Jan. 26, 2008 article in the Boston Globe, three federal employees are being investigated for unlawful political activities under the Hatch Act, which prohibits certain acts of politicking in the federal work place, after they allegedly forwarded a chain e-mail from their government e-mail accounts falsely accusing U.S. Senator Barack Obama of being a "radical Muslim." Penalties could include suspension without pay, termination and disqualification from future government employment.

With the ongoing presidential primaries, and the 2008 presidential election rapidly-approaching in November, it's important that Air Force members remember their rights and responsibilities regarding political activities. This article is not intended to be a complete guide, but rather a quick reference on the "Dos" and "Don'ts" for big issues that arise during election time - to avoid common and major pitfalls.

DOs: Air Force active-duty members can register to vote and express a personal opinion on political candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Armed Forces. Within these rights, members may contribute to political organizations, attend meetings and rallies as a spectator when not in uniform, display tasteful political stickers on personally-owned vehicles and wear political buttons when not in uniform or on duty.

DON'Ts: Air Force active-duty members may never use their official authority or influence to interfere with an election, including soliciting votes or contributions on behalf of a candidate. Although expressing a personal opinion on a political candidate is acceptable, one must not participate in partisan political management, campaigns, or conventions or display partisan political signs at one's residence on a military installation, including privatized housing. Air Force active-duty members are also not allowed to make public speeches regarding such opinions, including speaking before a partisan political gathering or on a radio, television or other program for a particular candidate. Using government resources (e.g. e-mails) to advocate or denounce a partisan candidate is not permitted. Finally, Department of Defense employees should never use their influence (rank or position) in the workplace to coerce votes.

Members of the Air Force are encouraged to vote and have opinions regarding political topics; however, Air Force members must be cognizant not to abuse the authority that is expressly and inherently bestowed to them.

For more information, please contact the 21st Space Wing Staff Judge Advocate office at 556-4871.