"The standards are more likely to be enforced because the penalty is not absurd," Clark said.
The updated Hatch Act also removes a hurdle that prevented many state and local workers from running in partisan elections. Under new rules, only state and local workers whose jobs are fully funded by the federal government cannot be a candidates in those elections. So, local police officers can throw their hats in the ring even if their canine partners are paid for by Uncle Sam.
Changes in the Hatch Act also mean that the mayor and council members in the District of Columbia might face more challengers.
Until now, district employees and locally elected officials were treated like federal workers under the Hatch Act and couldn't run for mayor or the council, Clark said. Only the mayor, council members and the recorder of deeds were exempt from the ban, she said.
"This provision has actually operated as an incumbent-protection device," Clark said.
But now, district employees and locally elected officials come under the same rules as state and local employees, meaning that so long as their position isn't entirely funded by the federal government, they can run in a partisan election, Clark said.
Some labor experts say more work needs to be done on the Hatch Act.
"The biggest flaw of the Hatch Act — there is no statute of limitations," said Ward Morrow, assistant general counsel for the American Federation of Government Employees.
"The fact that there isn't one means they can go back to the Johnson administration, and I mean Andrew Johnson, to look for violations," he said. "At some point, people need to move on and close the books."
Hatch Act by the numbers
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel enforces the Hatch Act. Here is a summary of the agency's activities, as well as actions taken by covered workers running for office:
2009 2010 2011*
New complaints 496 526 451
Warning letters issued 132 163 164
Advisory opinions issued 3,733 4,320 3,110
Worker withdrawals from partisan elections 15 28 23
Candidates resign from job; stays in election 6 26 16
*Years ended Sept. 30