Election day is a little bit different for the nation's 2.8 million federal workers. They operate under special political guidelines because, when they vote, they will be choosing their own bosses.
The difference is that most U.S. employes are covered by the Hatch Act. That 1939 law, designed to protect civil servants from political arm-twisting, also imposed rules about how they can function during elections.
Although the act permits employes to register, vote and express political opinions privately, it requires them to walk something of a politcal maze in getting to the polls.
Outwardly, federal workers can do what most other citizens can. Unless their agencies have specific rules against it, nonuniformed feds may wear buttons in nonpublic areas of federal buildings. Political signs in the yard and bumper stickers on private cars are okay. But feds can't run as partisan candidates, manage campaigns or collect money.
Hatch Act violaters can be suspended for 30 days (minimum) or fired. In the past two years only eight Hatch Act cases have reached the action stage with the Office of Special Counsel of the Merit Systems Protection Board.
In one case, a supervisor in the Midwest lost 84 days pay for urging subordinates to give money to a local political candidate who happened to be his daughter's husband. In another case, a General Services Administration official in Virginia is facing suspension for alleged violations.
Here are some questions, and the official answers from the Office of the Special Counsel, relating to federal worker conduct:
Q. Can you drive voters to the polls on election day?
A. "Federal employes may drive voters to the polls as a gesture of goodwill or as part of an effort by a nonpolitical organization. A federal employe may not drive voters to the polls as part of an organized effort by an organization which has committed itself to a partisan candidate, or on behalf of a candidate or political party."
Q. If you are driving a carpool to work are you allowed to stop at the polls to vote?
A. "This is between you and the members of your carpool. The Hatch Act does not prohibit you from making this stop."
Q. May employes work at the polls on election day?
A. "Federal employes may accept appointments to serve in a nonpartisan ministerial capacity such as election clerk, election judge or in a similar position as prescribed by state or local law. Employes may not, however, work at the polls on behalf of partisan candidates or political parties by acting as checkers, challengers, watchers or in similar partisan positions."
Q. Can family members use a federal worker's car to drive Democrats or Republicans to vote?
A. "Assuming the family member is not subject to the Hatch Act, he or she may use your car to drive voters to the polls on election day."
Q. May I (as a federal worker) respond to exit polls?
A. "A federal employe may respond to an exit poll, but may not take such a poll for a candidate or political party."
Q. May I attend a Democratic or Republican party on election eve?
A. "A federal employe may attend an election eve gathering sponsored by either party or its candidates."
Q. After the election, may federal employes work on an inaugural committee or a transition team?
A. "An employe may work on an inaugural committee or a transition team depending on the circumstances and the assignment. Employes should call the Office of Special Counsel for information and guidance on the law's application to a specific assignment." That telephone number 653-7984.