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Rules Describe Permitted, Prohibited Post-Election Activities

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The 2020 election cycle is almost over. However, the rules that limit the political activities of federal government employees and service members still apply.

Those rules — the Hatch Act and Defense Department policy for civilians and DOD Directive 1344.10 for service members — describe what types of partisan activities are prohibited or permitted during various periods of the election cycle.

A woman sanitizes a voting station.
Voting Station
ROTC Cadet Alyssa Skorich sanitizes a voting station at the Anthony Stratton Building in Lawrenceburg, Ky., June 12, 2020.
Photo By: Army Capt. Cassandra Mullins
VIRIN: 200612-A-LY144-806M

Prohibited Activities

While some DOD civilian employees may engage in certain political activities, the Hatch Act and DOD policy prohibit civilian employees from engaging in activity that shows support for or opposition to political parties or partisan political groups while on duty, in a government room or building, wearing an official uniform or insignia, or using a government vehicle.

These prohibitions do not change after Election Day. Specifically, civilian employees are always prohibited from engaging in political activity — defined as an activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, partisan political group, or candidate for partisan political office — while on duty and while in a federal building.

Soldiers sort ballots.
Sorting Ballots
Army Pfc. Kyri A. Kemp, left, Alpha Battery, 3-112th Field Artillery Regiment, and Army Spc. Cameron S. Greer, Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 113th Infantry Regiment, sort and open ballots at the Essex County Board of Elections in Newark, N.J., July 22, 2020.
Photo By: Mark C. Olsen, New Jersey National Guard
VIRIN: 200722-Z-AL508-1025
Airmen process ballots.
Processing Ballots
Air Force Senior Airman Matthew D. Talavera, right, Air Force Senior Airman Tashea S. Jackson-Medley, center, and Air Force Airman 1st Class Destiny J. Carl, all with the 177th Fighter Wing, New Jersey Air National Guard, process ballots at the Board of Elections Mail-In Ballot Processing Center, Mays Landing, N.J., Nov. 3, 2020. The citizen soldiers and airmen primarily assist in processing vote-by-mail ballots under the supervision of county election officials.
Photo By: Mark C. Olsen, New Jersey National Guard
VIRIN: 201103-Z-AL508-1045

For example, displaying a sign or other item showing support for the Democratic or Republican parties is always prohibited, but a similar item supporting a nonpartisan movement, such as "save the whales," is permitted.  

Much like civilian employees of the DOD, service members should also avoid partisan political activities before, during and after election day. 

Permitted Activities

After Election Day, with a few exceptions such as runoff elections, the Hatch Act does not prohibit civilian employees from wearing or displaying a former candidate's campaign items while they are on duty, as long as the individual is no longer actively seeking partisan political office.

Voting Sticker.
Voting Sticker
Voting sticker from Prince William County, Va.
Photo By: David Vergun, DOD
VIRIN: 201105-D-UB488-001M

For example, display of a campaign sign reading "Gore-Lieberman" or "Bush-Cheney" would be permitted at any time because their presidential candidacies have ended. 

DOD personnel must remain apolitical while performing official duties. Overall, any activity that may be reasonably viewed as directly or indirectly associating the DOD with partisan political activities should be avoided.

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