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Biden strong-arming colleges to pay students to collect votes likely illegal, lawyers say

‘Putrid partisan aroma’: Lawyers blast Biden administration for alleged vote harvesting racket

The Biden administration has established a scheme forcing colleges and universities to pay students with taxpayer dollars to “get out the vote” in an unprecedented interpretation of the Higher Education Act that’s likely illegal, lawyers tell The College Fix.

The U.S. Department of Education announced in February that federal work-study funds, typically meant to assist college students in offsetting tuition costs by working a part-time campus job, could be used to pay students for “broad-based get-out-the-vote activities.”

The announcement came after an April 2022 memo from the department’s financial aid office warning universities their federal funding could be in jeopardy if they do not distribute voter registration forms, citing the Higher Education Act’s call to make a “good faith effort” to do so.

The one-two punch is being described by several observers as an obviously partisan — and likely illegal — effort by the Biden administration to coerce universities to pay college students with tax dollars to conduct voter registration efforts on campuses overwhelmingly stocked with Democrat-heavy voters.

Hans von Spakovsky, senior legal fellow in the Heritage Foundation’s Edwin Meese III Center for Legal and Judicial Studies, told The College Fix that the cited section of the Higher Education Act “simply says that universities should do their best to distribute voter registration information to their own students.”

“It does not authorize the use of federal funds to pay students to engage in such activities, particularly to pay them to go outside of their college community to register voters who are not students. That is unprecedented,” he said.

Use of the funds in this manner could actually violate two separate acts, the Anti-Deficiency Act and the Hatch Act, he said. The Anti-Deficiency Act prohibits the use of federal funds for purposes beyond their specific lawful appropriation, and the Hatch Act limits the political activities of individuals paid by the federal government.

“Moreover, if you look closely at Section 487(a)(23) [of the Higher Education Act], which the administration is citing, it says very specifically that this section does NOT apply in any state that either has same day voter registration or does not require voter registration,” Spakovsky said.

Twenty two states and the District of Columbia “have same day voter registration and North Dakota has no voter registration requirement,” he said.

“Thus, even under its mistaken interpretation of the law, the Department of Education has no authority to require colleges in those 23 states and the District of Columbia to engage in any voter registration activities of any kind,” he said.

Robert Eitel, president of the Defense of Freedom Institute for Policy Studies, who served as senior counselor to the Secretary of Education from 2017 through 2020 under the Trump administration, said the education department under Biden is overreaching.

“​​The responsibility of colleges and universities that receive federal financial aid to ‘make a good faith effort’ to provide voter registration forms to students has been a relatively uncontroversial requirement of federal student aid compliance for decades, but leave it to the Biden administration to politicize the most generic of requirements,” Eitel told The College Fix via email.

Eitel said the administration’s “heavy hand” is an aggressive reading of the Higher Education Act of 1965.

“When one combines this guidance with the president’s illegal efforts to cancel student loans, it gives off a pretty putrid partisan aroma,” he said.

Nearly 20 Republican state attorneys general in April called on the U.S. Department of Education to rescind its guidance telling administrators to use federal funds to pay students for get-out-the-vote efforts. The AGs argued this use of federal funds would break the law and “serve overtly political functions.”

“In other words, laudable activities like encouraging voter turnout and registering voters have to happen somewhere, and that somewhere decides elections. Your guidance effectively licenses colleges and universities to subsidize this activity—and potentially swing elections by choosing where to direct these funds—with taxpayer money,” the letter states.

A Department of Education spokesman said in a previous email to The College Fix that the guidance is legal because the federal funds are only used for “federal work study positions with government agencies,” meaning that, “any election work that they are doing is not partisan, and already paid for with taxpayer funds.”

The department maintained that using federal funds for this purpose met “the general criteria for public interest work” because it did not constitute a “political activity.”

MORE: Republican AGs accuse Ed Dept. of partisan vote harvesting for Democrats

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