K. William O'Connor, special counsel of the Merit Systems Protection Board, has asked that panel to reduce the minimum sentence it imposes for violations of the Hatch Act, which prohibits government workers from participating in partisan elections.

O'Connor filed the petition on behalf of Jim J. Dukes, a U.S. Customs Service border patrol officer in Texas, who was recently suspended for 30 days.

Dukes was found to have violated the Hatch Act in 1978 when he answered telephones in the reelection campaign of Sen. John G. Tower (R-Tex.). At the time, Dukes was working on a master's degree and was enrolled in a course that required students to participate in a political campaign. Dukes received permission from his supervisor, but not the special counsel's office, which filed a complaint against him in 1980. Dukes accepted a 15-day suspension, but that agreement was later rejected by an administrative law judge who said the Hatch Act set a 30-day suspension as the minimum penalty. That position was upheld by another administrative law judge late last year.

O'Connor asked the board to stay Dukes' suspension and several other pending Hatch Act cases. He contended that the statute gives the board the discretion to impose lesser penalties. He has asked for the chance to argue his case before the panel.