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With the 2012 general presidential election only weeks away, please in mind that special ethics rules apply to active-duty servicemembers regarding their political activities.

The purpose of these rules is to ensure the Department of Defense does not influence our nation's electoral process. Violation of these rules can have serious consequences and could result in criminal or administrative penalties.

As a servicemember, you should be familiar with what you can and cannot do regarding political activities. The following is a quick reminder of the basic rules:

As an servicemember, you may:

- Register, vote and privately express your opinions on political candidates and issues (but not as a representative of the armed forces).

- Make monetary contributions to a political organization.

- Encourage other military members to exercise their voting rights, however, you may not attempt to influence or interfere with the outcome of an election. Also, you may not encourage subordinates to vote for or against a particular issue or candidate.

- Sign a petition for specific legislative action or a petition to place a candidate's name on an official election ballot. You may not identify yourself by rank or duty title.

- Write a letter to the editor of a newspaper expressing your personal views on public issues or political candidates, if such action is not part of an organized letter-writing campaign. You may not identify yourself by rank or duty title. If the letter identifies you as being on active-duty status (or if you are otherwise reasonably identifiable as a member of the armed forces), the letter should clearly state that the views expressed are your individual views and not those of your branch of service or the DoD.

- Display a small bumper sticker on your private vehicle.

The following activities are prohibited by the Joint Ethics Regulation, DoD regulations and federal law. Violation of these rules may result in criminal penalties or disciplinary action.

As a servicemember, you may not:

- Use your official authority, influence or government resources including e-mail, to interfere with an election, affect the course or outcome of an election, encourage votes for a particular candidate or issue or ask for political contributions from others.

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

- Solicit or fundraiser in federal offices, facilities or military reservations for a partisan political cause or candidate.

- Display a large political sign, banner or poster (as distinguished from a bumper sticker) on the top or side of a private vehicle.

- Participate in any organized effort to provide voters with transportation to the polls if the effort is organized by a partisan political party or candidate.

- Attend partisan political events as an official representative of the armed forces.

- Display a partisan political sign, poster, banner or similar device visible to the public at one's residence on a military installation, even if that residence is part of a privatized housing development.

- Under Article 88 of the Uniformed Code of Military Justice, military officers may not publicly disrespect or undermine certain elected officials, federal secretaries or congress.

Partisan political activities are actions that show support for a particular political party or candidate. For example, a servicemember may not participate in a rally supporting a candidate, work for a candidate's election committee, run for elected office, appear in a political advertisement, or otherwise officially support a candidate.

Earlier this year, an Army reservist was reprimanded for appearing in uniform on CNN to support a presidential candidate. This is just one example of what not to do..