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Know Your Voting Do's and Don'ts

  • Published
  • By Capt. Joseph Pera
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Legal Office
With mid-term elections fast approaching, Pope Airmen must be aware of what they can and cannot do as an active duty military member to express themselves. The elections in November will decide 435 House of Representatives, 33 Senate seats and 36 state governors, in addition to many state and local elections. While Airmen are encouraged to remain politically aware and express their personal opinions on candidates and issues, they must not do so as a representative of the Air Force. 

Guidance on the do's and don'ts of political participation is found in Air Force Instruction 51-902, Political Activities by Members of the U.S. Air Force. In accordance with the instruction, Airmen have a right to register to vote, vote and express a personal opinion on candidates and issues, but not as a representative of the Air Force. They can attend political meetings or rallies when not in uniform and they may wear a political button when not in uniform or on duty. While Airmen may display a bumper sticker on their privately owned vehicles, they may not display large political signs or banners on the top or side of their POV. Additionally, AFI 51-902 specifically prohibits the following activities: 
- Use of official authority or influence to interfere with an election, solicit votes for a particular candidate or issue, or to require or solicit political contributions
from others
- Participation in partisan political management, campaigns or conventions, or make political speeches in the course of such activity
- Speaking before a partisan political gathering of any kind for promoting a partisan political party or candidate
- Participating in any radio, television, or other program or group discussion as an advocate of a partisan political party or candidate
- Conducting a political opinion survey under the auspices of a partisan political group, or distribute partisan political literature
- Attending, as an official representative of the Armed Forces, partisan political events, even without actively participating 

These rules are not designed to temper political participation by active duty Airmen, but rather to maintain the Air Force's image as a neutral entity of the government. As an entity contained within the Department of the Defense, the Air Force supports the president, not a particular political party or candidate. To maintain its status as a neutral entity, the Air Force must remain and be perceived by the public as apolitical. The prohibitions described above help to ensure that the political views of individual Airmen are not perceived by the public to be the views of the Air Force. 

Despite the regulations on political engagement, the Air Force highly encourages Airmen and DoD civilians to uphold their civic duty and vote in upcoming elections. For further information concerning the limits on political participation, the Federal Voting Assistance center can be reached at 1-800-438-VOTE, and via the Internet at http://www.fvap.gov.