[ Triad Online Home ]

Army encourages soldiers to fulfill civic duty; rules govern political activity

By Maj. Matt Parsons, Fort McCoy Judge Advocate

This year is an election year.

As various primary elections and the November general election approach, some soldiers and Department of Defense civilian employees may want to become more active in the political process.

As a matter of policy, the Army encourages all soldiers and civilian employees to fulfill their civic obligations. Everyone is encouraged to register to vote, study the issues and candidates, and ultimately vote.

Beyond these very basic actions, soldiers and civilian employees should be careful to understand the rules that govern political activities by members of the federal work force.

This article will focus on the rules governing political activity by soldiers and military members. In a future article, the rules governing federal civilian employees will be addressed.

The rules governing political activity by soldiers are contained in Army Regulation (AR) 600-20 and are significantly more restrictive than the rules applicable to the federal civilian work force.

The rules in AR 600-20 are based on a combination of federal law and Army policy, intended to keep the Army as an institution (and its members) free from partisan political entanglements.

The term partisan here means activity in support of or related to national or state political parties and associated or ancillary organizations. Under Army policy soldiers may register to vote, vote, and contribute money to political parties or committees. Soldiers also may join political clubs and parties and attend meetings, but not in uniform.

However, soldiers generally are not allowed to participate in partisan political activity beyond the level of membership and attendance at meetings. Consequently, soldiers may not serve as officers, sponsors, or candidates of partisan political parties or clubs.

This prohibition on certain types of partisan political activity extends to soliciting or receiving contributions, speaking at a partisan political gathering, and taking part in the management of a partisan political campaign.

A good rule of thumb is that any public or outward involvement in or support of partisan political activity by soldiers is likely prohibited.

The following list of "Dos" and "Don'ts" for political activities by soldiers is a good guide on what conduct is permitted and what is prohibited.

Soldiers may:

1. Register, vote, and express personal opinions on political candidates and issues, but not as representatives of the Army (note, however, that Article 88 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) prohibits the use of contemptuous words against officials, including the president, vice president, secretary of defense, members of Congress, and the governor or legislature of any state).

2. Join a political club or party and attend meetings when not in uniform.

3. Serve in local part-time nonpartisan civil offices if such service does not interfere with the performance of military duties and prior approval is given by the installation commander.

4. Serve as an election official if such service is not as a representative of a partisan political party, is approved by the installation commander, and is performed out of uniform.

5. Sign a petition for specific legislative action or to place a candidate's name on a petition, if it is signed as a private citizen and does not obligate the soldier to engage in partisan political activity.

6. Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper expressing personal views on public issues, if those views do not attempt to promote a partisan candidate or cause.

7. Write a personal letter that is not for publication expressing a preference for a partisan political candidate or cause, but such letters may not be part of an organized letter-writing campaign.

8. Contribute money to a political party or political committee favoring a particular candidate or a group of candidates.

9. Display a political decal on the bumper on his or her automobile (decals containing obscenities, vulgar language, or advocating acts of violence, or in support of extremist groups may not be permitted on a military installation).

Soldiers May Not:

1. Use official authority or position to interfere with an election, affect the course of an election, solicit votes for a candidate or issue, or require or solicit political contributions from others.

2. Be partisan political candidates for civil office at the federal, state, or local level. Soldiers also may not engage in public or organized solicitations of others to become partisan political candidates.

3. Take part in the partisan political management of campaigns or make public speeches in support of partisan political campaigns.

4. Make a campaign contribution to another member of the armed forces or to a civilian officer or employee of the United States to promote a political objective or cause.

5. Solicit or receive any campaign contributions to promote a political objective or cause.

6. Publish partisan political articles signed or authorized by the soldier to solicit votes for or against a partisan political party or candidate.

7. Serve in any official capacity or be listed as the sponsor of a partisan political party or club.

8. Speak before a partisan political gathering of any kind to promote a partisan political party or candidate.

9. Take part in any radio, television or other program or group discussion as an advocate of a partisan political party or candidate.

10. Conduct a political opinion survey at the direction of or in support of a partisan political group.

11. Distribute partisan political literature.

12. Use contemptuous words against the president, vice president, Congress, the secretary of defense, the secretary of a military department, or the governor or legislature of any state or territory.

13. Perform clerical or other duties for a partisan political party or committee during a political campaign or on Election Day.

14. Engage in fund-raising activities in federal offices or facilities for a partisan political cause or candidate, including anywhere on a military installation.

15. March or ride in a partisan political parade.

16. Display a large political sign, poster, or banner (as opposed to a decal) on his or her automobile.

17. Take part in any organized effort to provide voters with transportation to the polls (voting place) if it is organized or associated with a partisan political party or candidate.

18. Sell tickets for or otherwise actively promote political dinners and other political fund-raising events.

19. Attend partisan political events as an official representative of the Army, even when there is no active participation.

These lists of permitted and prohibited activities are not exclusive. However, they provide specific examples of political activities that a soldier may and may not perform.

They also provide a good sense of what other activities are acceptable and those that are improper. In general these rules prohibit any outward or demonstrable activities or support for partisan political parties, candidates, or issues.

Soldiers with questions regarding political activities should contact the Judge Advocate Office at (608) 388-2165 for further information.

[ Top of Page ]

[ Triad Online Home ]