piggy bank with grad cap and 'I Voted' sticker

Molly Butler / Media Matters

Research/Study Research/Study

Right-wing media are outraged that the Biden administration is encouraging voter registration though a federal work-study program

After Vice President Kamala Harris promoted a program allowing students to receive work-study funds for engaging in voter registration efforts, right-wing media responded that the effort to increase civic engagement would be tantamount to “election rigging.” Right-wing media have persistently smeared nonpartisan voter outreach as unfair and a form of “election rigging.”

  • Background

    • On February 27, Vice President Kamala Harris announced that college students can receive funds through federal work-study programs for helping register others to vote. She mentioned it as part of a speech on broader efforts to “protect voting rights nationwide.” The Biden administration sought confirmation that the program could include these efforts leading up to the 2022 midterms, and Harris recently shared the White House’s “strategy to protect voting rights nationwide,” which includes the work-study component. [Democracy Docket, 2/28/24; ABC, 5/11/22]
    • According to NPR, “Young voters have historically had the lowest voter registration and participation rates of any age group in the United States.” Charlotte Hill, director of the Democracy Policy Initiative at University of California, Berkeley, told NPR, “Compared with others, people coming of voting age face significant barriers to registering to vote.” [NPR, 8/6/23]
    • Right-wing media often attack efforts to expand voting rights, insisting that they cause increases in voter fraud and swing elections toward Democrats. Mail-in ballots, automatic voter registration, expanded early voting access, and other tools are frequently villainized by right-wing media figures. [Media Matters, 11/3/23, 11/18/22, 5/4/23, 11/7/22]
  • Right-wing media are attacking the federal work-study program as a leftist “racket”

    • The Gateway Pundit alleged that Harris’ comments about protecting voting rights were really “Democrat speak for flooding the ballot boxes with fraudulent ballots.” The article also claimed that “Harris kicked out the press so she could discuss securing additional Democrat votes in secret.” [The Gateway Pundit, 2/27/24]
    • RealClearInvestigation’s Paul Sperry said it was “Machiavellian” to “pay college activists to register other students (using our tax dollars), then drive them to the polls by putting abortion on the ballot in swing states, thereby artificially energizing youth vote for Biden.” He added: “This is how they squeak out wins, folks!” [Twitter/X, 2/28/24]
    • Jason Snead, executive director of the Honest Elections Project, posted, “This is one step away from the Biden administration outright paying people to vote for them.” The Honest Elections Project is a conservative organization connected to right-wing judicial activist Leonard Leo. [Twitter/X, 2/28/24; Media Matters, 10/27/22]
    • Fox News contributor Ari Fleischer said the program “has all the indications of a vote-buying operation paid for by taxpayers to help Joe Biden and the Democrats.” Host Laura Ingraham responded that tax dollars are “going to elect Joe Biden.” [Fox News, The Ingraham Angle, 2/28/24]
    • HotAir published an article criticizing the program, calling it “election rigging.” The article argued: “Kamala Harris is proud to explain how the government is activating students to get engaged in politics by throwing your tax dollars around. … The new federal program is being used to integrate the most Left-wing group in the country to infiltrate every aspect of the election process.” [HotAir, 2/28/24]
    • The Federalist published an article titled “Bidenbucks Laundered Through Education Department Target Likely Biden Voters.” The outlet claimed that the Biden administration is attempting to “set up voter recruitment and indoctrination activities.” [The Federalist, 2/27/24]
    • Twitchy claimed, “Team Biden's already been quite busy trying to buy votes via student loan ‘forgiveness,’ so they might be thinking why not expand the effort.” The article is titled “‘How Is This Legal?' VP Harris Says Federal Gov't Will Be Paying College Students to Register Voters.” [Twitchy, 2/28/24]
    • OutKick’s Tomi Lahren posted, “Kamala wants to pay college students to register more activist voters.” [Twitter/X, 2/28/24]
    • Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich called the program a “racket.” Her full post read: “The Biden administration is paying students to register voters and also reallocated student loan debt to the working class. What a racket.” [Twitter/X, 2/28/24]
    • In a segment on Harris’ announcement, radio host Mark Levin said Democrats are “using your tax dollars to register more Democrats.” Earlier in the show, he stated, “Gee, I wonder who they're going to register. … They're going to get students to help register liberals.” He also referred to those supporting the program as “sleazeballs through and through” and “Marxist bastards.” [Westwood One, The Mark Levin Show, 2/28/24]
    • Fox News host Jesse Watters claimed that Biden is “bribing college kids with taxpayer money to become poll workers and election activists.” He then criticized other efforts to expand voting accessibility, stating, “First Democrats weaponized mail-in ballots to secure election wins while the Republican Party lagged and now they’re turning the federal government into a taxpayer-funded arm of the Biden-Harris campaign.” [Fox News, Jesse Watters Primetime, 2/28/24]
    • Newsmax host Rob Schmitt called the program an attempt to “harvest votes” and called college students “completely disengaged voters who would never just go register to vote themselves.” He continued his rant by implying that the program tells students “that they’re going to get more free stuff if they vote for Joe Biden.” [Newsmax, Rob Schmitt Tonight, 2/28/24]
    • RedState published an article titled “Just How Desperate Are Democrats? Federal Agencies Get New Duty - Voter Registration.” The article also stated, “Now, it appears as if it is literally an all-hands-on-deck approach to the 2024 election. While the one thing both Democrats and Republicans might agree on is that voter registration is key, Democrats have figured out that, with federal agencies under their control, why not put them to work?” [RedState, 2/28/24]
    • Conservative commentator Steve Guest posted on X, “Just watch, Kamala's taxpayer funded voter registration efforts will only be working in Democrat areas.” [Twitter/X, 2/28/24]