Questions and Answers About Draft Registration

The phrase "the draft" conjures up images from the Vietnam War: weekly body counts, young men making agonized decisions. More than 20 years later, no one is actually being drafted. But young people still have important decisions to make about military service.


By the time you reach your l8th birthday, military recruiters have probably flooded your mailbox with glossy brochures, promising the world while avoiding the word "war." Even if you choose to ignore them, the Pentagon still wants to know about you.

If you're male and a U.S. citizen, you're legally required to register with the Selective Service System (SSS), within thirty days before or twenty-nine days after your l8th birthday. (If you're female, you don't have to register: in fact, you can't. Not that the military doesn't want you - recruiters have a special sales pitch just for women!) Most male U.S. residents who aren't citizens are also required to register.

The registration form is available at your local post office. You'll be asked for your name, gender, social security number, date of birth, temporary and permanent addresses, phone numbers, and signature. The form has no space for claiming any deferments or exemptions, or to declare yourself a conscientious objector. Such claims could only be made during an actual draft, after receiving a draft notice.

(see If There Were a Draft.... )

If you know you won't and can't be part of the military, then you're probably a conscientious objector. You can begin preparing your claim now. Whether you're facing registration or not, CCCO encourages you to declare yourself a conscientious objector early and often - and to act on that declaration.


In a word, no.

By targeting low-income youth with a high-pressure sales pitch and inflated " promises, the military has kept up its supply of ground troops. And the Pentagon now relies heavily on the Reserve and National Guard, mobilizing such units in every deployment.

The SSS, on the other hand, is set up for the sort of massive long-term war that hasn't happened since Vietnam. Even in such an event, the Pentagon doesn't expect to propose a new draft. The SSS isn't even designed for the "health workers draft" occasionally threatened by Congress (in the face of the military's continued shortage of medical professionals).

Instead, the Selective Service System is so inconsequential to Pentagon planners that in recent years, some of the most pro-military members of Congress have voted to shut it down, in an effort to cut government waste. However, other politicians have chosen to wrap themselves in the SSS flag by voting to continue its funding.


You're someone who has no intention of ever being part of the military; you've ignored the recruiters, despite repeated phone calls and subtle pressure from school guidance counselors. Why, you may ask, should you then register - and put your name in line for a future, massive military action?

You're violating the law, although you're not likely to be prosecuted.

One reason, of course, is that it's the law. Failure to register is a federal offense: if prosecuted and convicted, you could face up to five years' imprisonment and a $250,000 fine. (Actual published sentencing guidelines are much less). If you refuse to register with Selective Service, you'll receive threatening letters, at first politely reminding you to register, then threatening prosecution, finally informing you that your name has been turned over to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution. These sound scary, but they're mostly bluff. No one has actually been formally charged since 1986.

In the early 1980s, 21 young men were indicted for refusal to register: 19 of those 21 were public resisters. Wherever there were trials, the rates of registration actually went down. This resistance halted prosecutions.

You become ineligible for federal aid.

Since prosecutions didn't work, the same "patriotic" politicians that keep Selective Service in business came up with more insidious ways to ensure compliance. If you don't register, you become ineligible for federal student aid, federal job training or civil service employment (anywhere from the Post Office to the Park Service). In some states you can't get state aid or even, as in Colorado, attend state colleges. (Call CCCO for information on your state's policies.)

However, many states do offer state aid regardless of registration status. Some college financial aid off cers will help you seek alternative aid; sometimes, the school itself will have a special fund for such cases.

Some resist by waiting until they're older.

Legally, at any moment until your twenty-sixth birthday, Selective Service must accept your draft registration card. Some young men delay registration until the year in which they turn 21 (at which point the chances of being drafted are extremely slim), or even until just before turning 26. Once registered, you're once again eligible for federal assistance. (Since delayed registration is also illegal, this approach is a form of draft resistance.)

On the other hand, if you don't register before you turn 26, you will not be allowed to register, even if you change your mind. You'd then be permanently barred from such benefits, unless Congress or the courts act to change the law, which is unlikely.


You've looked at the options and decided that you do, in fact want to register. But you know that, in the unlikely but still possible event of a draft, you would never fight in a war. Perhaps you're a woman, and want to register your protest of the entire system. Is there any way you can tell Selective Service that you're a conscientious objector (CO)?

CCCO receives calls asking this question at least once a week. The answer is a definite yes and no. Even though the registration card has no off cial space for it, you can still put yourself on record as a CO. Write on the bottom of the registration card, I am a conscientious objector. Photocopy the actual card a few times; place one of the copies in a sealed envelope before mailing the card to Selective Service; then mail the copy to yourself on the same day that you register. Since the actual card is destroyed after processing, your sealed, postmarked envelope is the only existing record of your notice to the Selective Service.

Of course, if you had to prove a CO claim to a draft board, you'd need more than a postcard - and you may not have much time to prepare your claim after receiving an induction order. Some young men, when they register, will collect letters from teachers, friends, religious leaders and others who know of their beliefs. Letters should attest to the sincerity of your convictions.

Many people find preparing a CO claim to be a good way of examining and reaffirming their own feelings about war, peace and social justice. Choosing Peace: A Handbook on War, Peace and Your Conscience, available from CCCO, offers more details. You may want to join with other young people about to turn eighteen, share this brochure and discuss your beliefs.

However, at CCCO we urge you to go beyond compiling a claim.

For those of us who declare ourselves conscientious objectors, whether or not we're at risk of being drafted, the real challenge is to end all conscription. And that means taking on the other Selective Service.


You've probably heard the term "poverty draft." Today's military tells young people from low-income families that the military's their best option - perhaps their only one


Overall, the Pentagon spends nearly $2 billion a year targeting high-achieving low-income youth with commercials, personal visits and brochures. They take advantage of an economy that increasingly squeezes out those without a college degree, the gutting of college financial aid, and the collapse of affordable housing. They never mention that the college money is difficult to come by, or that very few job skills are transferable from military to civilian life. They leave out the likelihood of sexist, homophobic and racist harassment in the military - as well as the realities of injury, illness, combat and war.

CCCO works against the poverty draft in two ways. We work to counter the recruiters' lies and get the word out to young people before they sign up. And we're there for those who, once they've signed up, realize their mistake and don't know where to turn.

Stopping the Military Invasion Of Our Schools

As you may know, more and more high schools are willing to serve as recruiting stations - allowing recruiter presentations in classrooms, hosting the military's recruiting vans and their traveling high-tech theater, even integrating military training into their curriculum in the so-called Junior Reserve Officers Training Program (JROTC).

CCCO's Stop the Military Invasion of Our Schools Campaign works with hundreds of parents, teachers and activists across the country, challenging schools to reject the recruiters and their false promises. We talk to school boards, administrators, teachers, and students themselves, working to counter the slick lies by exposing the realities of military life.

Gl Advocacy: Helping Out

Unfortunately, we don't reach everyone. A lot of young people don't learn the truth behind the recruiters' fast talk until after they've signed up. Tens-of thousands of GIs every year are discriminated against, harassed, hazed, abused by officers, and isolated from their families. Many realize that, in fact, they are conscientious objectors - and feel trapped in an institution whose value system is based on violence.

As co-sponsor of the national GI Rights Network, CCCO takes calls every week from young people who want out, most of whom have called our national hotline:1-800-FYI-9SGI. We're reaching out to military bases, especially basic training camps. We reach out to young people enrolled in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP), many of whom change their minds once they recover from the recruiter's double-talk. We work with those who've experienced military injustice.

For more information about your options, or to get involved, contact CCCO:

655 Sutter St. #514
San Francisco, CA 94102
415-474-3002, 474-2311 fax,

1515 Cherry St,
Philadelphia, PA 19102
215-563-8787, 567-2096 fax,

1-800-FYI-9SGI and 1-800-NO JROTC

The legal definition of a conscientious objector is a person who objects to participation in all forms of war, and whose belief is based on a religious, moral, or ethical belief system. To be a CO, you don't have to believe in God; nor do you have to oppose using violence in personal self-defense. However, under current legal definitions, you must oppose participating in all wars. Advocates are still fighting for legal recognition of selective objection, your right to refuse to fight in specific wars.

If There Were A Draft

Before anyone could be drafted, Congress and the President would have to enact legislation authorizing new draft calls. Under present law (which would probably change with a new draft), Selective Service would first select randomly among those who turned 20 in the calendar year of the call-up (the famous "lottery" system). In practice, while it's possible that a draft sould move beyond the age 20 selection group, the odds are against it.

If you were called up, you would receive an induction notice requiring you to report on a certain date not less than 10 days from the date of the notice, to a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) unless you filed a claim for exemption or deferment. Filing a claim involves no more than checking a box on a form, and submitting it to the Selective Service. After the SSS receives the claim, they will send you more forms to complete. You must apply for any and all exemptions for which you think you may qualify,and/or for classification as a conscientious objector. At ths writing, the major possible exemptions are:

  • a minister or divinity student
  • the son of a family whose father, mother, or siblings have died as a result of military action
  • the sole financial or other support to family members who are eldrly, disabled, or ill
  • physically or mentally incapable of being in the military
  • lesbian, gay, or bisexual
  • a conscientious objector

After you file a claim, your induction date will be postponed while the draft board evaluates its validity. If your claim is rejected, you will receive a new induction date. CCCO can help find lawyers to help you through the lengthy appeals process.