UNCLASSIFIED (U)

7 FAM 1560 

political activities AND THE OVERSEAS VOTING PROGRAM guidance

(CT:CON-841;   08-28-2018)
(Office of Origin:  CA/OCS)

7 FAM 1561  SUMMARY

(CT:CON-742;   10-17-2017)

a. This section highlights a few issues concerning political activities that are specific to the voting assistance program and the operation of U.S. political parties abroad.  (See 3 FAM 4123.3 for general guidance on partisan political activities while abroad.)

b. Ethics Program Web site:  The Department’s general guidance on permissible political activities is available on the Department’s Ethics Program Web site.  The guidance memoranda available on the website incorporate the Hatch Act (5 U.S.C. 7321-26), its implementing regulations (5 CFR 734) and policy restrictions specific to the Department of State.

c.  Permissible political activities vary depending on the status of the employee (e.g., the rules for ambassadors and non-chief-of-mission (COM) Foreign Service (FS) officers are not identical).

d. Violations of political activities restrictions can lead to criminal and civil penalties, as well as disciplinary action.

e. Questions in the area of political activities should be directed to L/EFD by email at EthicsAttorneyMailbox@state.gov, or, if necessary, by phone at (202) 663-3770.

7 FAM 1562  ELECTION ACTIVITIES ON U.S. EMBASSY OR CONSULAR PREMISES

(CT:CON-742;   10-17-2017)

a. Under 3 FAM 4123.3, employees, spouses, and family members are prohibited from engaging in any partisan political activities abroad.

b. Voting Assistance Officers may brief and meet on embassy and consular premises with private U.S. citizen groups abroad about the overseas voting program, provided they avoid giving preferential treatment to any particular group.

c.  Nonpartisan voter registration drives, as defined in 7 FAM 1564, are permitted on embassy or consulate premises.

d. Partisan political rallies are not permitted on embassy or consulate premises.

e. Posts abroad may not conduct polling or mock elections, in relation to either U.S. or foreign elections, tallying political preferences of post employees, dependents, or private citizens.  There is a limited exception to this rule, which allows the public diplomacy section to organize a mock election that serves a legitimate public diplomacy purpose.  Such events may only be held at post-sponsored election-night events and when participation in the activity is limited to only non-U.S. Government employee foreign nationals.  Mock elections are never organized by the consular section and require approval from L/PD and L/EFD. 

f.  Voting assistance officers may not participate in such mock election exercises at “American schools” abroad.

g. Contact between posts and political campaigns is covered by separate guidance.  If there are questions about contact with presidential campaigns, contact L/EFD.

7 FAM 1563  PARTICIPATION BY VOTING ASSISTANCE OFFICERS in PARTISAN ELECTION EVENTS OUTSIDE embassy or CONSULAR PREMISES

(CT:CON-841;   08-28-2018)

a. Voting assistance officers may attend meetings of private U.S. citizen groups to provide general information about the overseas voting program.  However, they must avoid giving preferential treatment to any particular group or individual.

b. Voting assistance officers may publicize and attend voter registration events outside embassy or consular premises, including events organized by groups such as Republicans Abroad or Democrats Abroad, on a nonpartisan basis.  If post publicizes or attends an event organized by one partisan group, every effort must be made to attend and publicize voter registration events organized by other partisan groups.  Voting Assistance Officers, where feasible, should include a note in any publicity materials such as social media posts and list serve messages, indicating that post publicizes and attends such voter registration events on a nonpartisan basis.  The use of MASCOT messages is discouraged except for pre-cleared messages from the Department Voting Action Officer.

c.  Voting Assistance Officers may attend voter registration events organized by a partisan group to provide information about absentee voting and otherwise carry out the functions of the overseas voting program.  When attending such events, they must stand at separate booths or tables from partisan groups or otherwise make clear that they are not affiliated with a partisan group;

d. Here is some guidance relating to situations that arise frequently and the general issue of political neutrality:

(1)  Newsletter or Messages for U.S. Citizens (See 7 FAM 070 Appendix A):  In newsletters, we can identify private U.S. citizen groups such as American Citizens Abroad (ACA), Association of Americans Resident Overseas (AARO), Federation of American Women’s Clubs Overseas, Inc., or League of Women Voters, as sources for nonpartisan assistance with voter registration, provided that the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) identifies these groups as nonpartisan on its Web site or in the Voting Assistance Guide.  Voting assistance officers can write an article asking for voting volunteers who would be willing to work with the embassy or consulate (and its network of groups) to provide voting assistance for the coming year.  (See 7 FAM 070 Appendix A and 7 FAM 070 for guidance about Messages for U.S. Citizens and American Liaison Networks);

(2)  Events hosted by political partiesVoting Assistance Officers cannot advertise partisan meetings or partisan fundraisers; 

(3)  Speaking to Political Groups Abroad:  The role of Voting Assistance Officers is nonpartisan.  Voting Assistance Officers may speak with partisan political groups such as Democrats Abroad and Republicans Abroad, but they must not favor one political party over another.  Accordingly, if a Voting Assistance Officer plans to speak with a partisan political group, they must also offer to speak to the other partisan political groups in their consular district.  Voting Assistance Officers can discuss the post's role in providing voting assistance and education to U.S. citizens in the consular district.  They can ask both groups to hold nonpartisan voter registration events to help reach out to all U.S. citizens, and can give guides, election calendars, and motivational posters to both groups;

(4)  Events that the embassy/consulate hostsVoting Assistance Officers can recruit volunteers from political groups such as Republicans Abroad and Democrats Abroad to offer voting assistance at embassy-hosted town hall meetings to handle nonpartisan voter registration, and can invite both groups to staff a voter registration booth at the July 4th event.  Voting Assistance Officers’ booths can have signs that say "VOTE!" or "Register to vote here" or something similar, but they should not contain any signs that identify candidates or support either party, and volunteers must not wear any partisan apparel buttons or accessories, encourage attendees to support particular candidates or parties, or distribute literature from candidates or partisan organizations;

(5)  What Voting Assistance Officers cannot do:  They cannot provide partisan information on candidates and issues to U.S. officials or U.S. Government employees, private U.S. citizens, or military personnel.  Further, they cannot distribute any literature from candidates or partisan organizations, or promote partisan websites or social media accounts; and

(6)  What Voting Assistance Officers can do as private citizens employed by the U.S. Government:  See 7 FAM 1561 for information about the political activities restrictions on Department employees.

7 FAM 1564  Requirments for “Nonpartisan” voter registration events

(CT:CON-742;   10-17-2017)

In order to be meet the definition of “nonpartisan,” a voter registration event must satisfy the following criteria:

(1)  No political party or candidate labeling of any kind (banners, flyers, van decals, t-shirts worn by event staffers, buttons) may be displayed during the voter registration portion of the event;

(2)  This applies to event organizers and staffers.  It does not apply to individuals not involved in organizing or staffing the event.  Therefore, such “attendees” may wear or otherwise display partisan messaging;

(3)  No political messaging or speeches of any kind may be made during the voter registration portion of the event;

(4)  No campaign material for or against any party or candidate may be distributed during the voter registration portion of the event;

(5)  No campaign contributions for any party or candidate may be solicited or collected during the voter registration portion of the event;

(6)  If you are have questions about whether or not the event you are assisting with qualifies please contact L/EFD by email at EthicsAttorneyMailbox@state.gov, or by phone at (202) 663-3770.

7 FAM 1565 through 1569  Unassigned

UNCLASSIFIED (U)