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Michigan elections FAQ: More registered voters than eligible voters?

Top view of pile of Voting stickers. The stickers are red, white and blue
Michigan has more registered voters than voting-age residents, according to state data and U.S. Census Bureau estimates. (Shutterstock)
  • Bridge readers have asked multiple questions about the state’s voter rolls, including data showing more registered voters than voting age population
  • Michigan voter rolls are more bloated than neighboring states but officials say more than 610,000 registrations are slated for cancellation
  • A lawsuit from the Republican National Committee could force Michigan to take more aggressive measures

Michigan has more registered voters than citizens of voting age, a reality that has prompted multiple reader questions to Bridge Elections FAQ, a series that aims to engage readers ahead of critical fall contests. Ask your question here.

Readers have asked: Is it true? What federal rules prevent Michigan from cleaning up the voter rolls? Isn’t there a related federal lawsuit?

As of the time of this publication, state data showed Michigan has 8.3 million registered voters, while U.S. Census Bureau estimates Michigan had 7.9 million citizens of voting age in 2023. That means registrations stand at about 105% of eligible voters, an excess that Great Lakes neighbors do not share.


The straightforward statistic has been cited repeatedly in theories of widespread voter fraud and election malfeasance. Election deniers have claimed legions of the dead or otherwise ineligible voters are casting ballots in Michigan’s elections — though independent audits have shown otherwise.

But in Michigan, a critical battleground in the 2024 election, concerns over voter rolls persist, particularly among Republican activists. The outcry for action has prompted a federal lawsuit from the Republican National Committee that seeks to force Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson to clean up the state list.


Voter registration challenges have also increasingly been used by conservative activists attempting to root out fraud. In the eight months between September 2023 and May 2024, the state saw a 55% increase in challenges, according to a report from advocacy group Protect Democracy.

The state faced at least 22,000 inappropriate challenges in the 2022 election cycle, the report said, and Benson reportedly reversed 1,000 cancellations in Waterford Township. 

When a voter’s registration is challenged in Michigan, they have to respond to the challenge or else face having their registration removed from voter rolls. 

With tensions over Michigan’s voter rolls seeming unlikely to subside before the November election, here’s a guide for what to know about them.

What the voter rolls do and what they’re for

When an eligible Michigander registers to vote here, they are placed in the qualified voter file, the state’s central voter registrations database, which is colloquially called a voter roll. It’s a public record that tracks where voters are registered and their participation in recent elections.


Local election officials have access to the qualified voter file, and it is used in elections to create a pollbook for each voting location with all the registered voters in the precinct. Election officials and workers use it to check voter eligibility in their jurisdiction, no matter which method the resident chooses to vote. 

Still, if a voter moves and doesn’t update their registration, they can still vote on election day by signing an affidavit or re-registering with their new clerk.

When election audits or recounts are conducted, the qualified voter file is relied on as an important cross-check to ensure ballots are appearing in the correct jurisdictions and that all ballots have been counted.

Why Michigan’s rolls are bloated

Imperfect data, federal rules and Michigan’s own laws have all contributed to the bloat.

There is no national record of voter information — every state is on their own. So when a voter moves to another state or stops voting, the information often isn’t updated quickly.

Michiganders who recently moved out of state can cancel their Michigan voter registration, but many do not. To learn of a death or a move, the Secretary of State often has to rely on death data from the Social Security Administration, change of address information from the Postal Service, or a surrendered driver’s license.

Federal law also prohibits Michigan registrations from being immediately canceled. Michigan can only remove a voter from the file “by reason of death, criminal conviction, mental incapacity, change in residence, or voter request.”

If a voter has died or moved, and election-related mail is returned undeliverable, the same law requires officials to wait two federal general elections after sending a notice of cancellation before removing them from the voter roll. The delay gives voters another chance to say they want to remain registered. 

There has been an attempt to coordinate information between states, the Electronic Registration Information Center, which facilitates voter and vehicle registration data sharing to better keep states’ own information up to date.

Officials in the states that participate in ERIC have described it as a valuable tool to prevent double voting, given it’s the only system currently capable of catching that type of voter fraud, which is very rare in U.S. elections.

But the once 32-state coalition has been reduced to 24 in recent years. 

Eight Republican-led states have left since 2022, including Ohio, Florida and Texas, after election conspiracy theorists attacked the decade-old organization with unsubstantiated claims that ERIC was a left-wing plot to steal elections through voter registration.

Fewer states in the partnership has made it more difficult for remaining states like Michigan to ascertain if a voter should be contacted about a move.

Another reasoning behind the uptick in registration is recent changes to Michigan law that made registration more convenient. 

Michiganders are now automatically registered to vote when receiving or updating a driver’s license, and 16-year-olds can pre-register to vote once they turn 18, allowing them to sign up when they first receive a driver’s license.

Voters can also register to vote at their clerks’ office on Election Day.

What is the state doing about it?

State officials have stressed that more than 350,000 voter registrations are due to expire in 2025 without action from those voters. In 2027 another 255,952 are slated for removal.

That would bring the state voter rolls below 100% of the voting age population, but those pending cancellations have done little to assuage objections from groups like the Republican National Committee. 

In an ongoing lawsuit, the RNC alleges that Michigan’s failure to maintain its voter rolls “harms the electoral process, heightens the risk of electoral fraud, and undermines public confidence in elections.” 

“Michigan’s impossibly high registration rates, large rates of inactive registered voters, low numbers of address confirmations, and low numbers of removals indicate an ongoing, systemic problem with its voter list maintenance efforts,” the RNC said in an initial complaint. 

Lawyers representing Benson, the Democratic Secretary of State, have asked for the complaint to be dismissed. 


The Democratic National Committee has argued in court that the GOP suit is part of a "dangerous pattern of unsubstantiated election-related claims, which serve only to undermine public confidence in the electoral process."

The RNC lawsuit cites individual examples of past voter fraud in Michigan, but the examples were unrelated to the status of the state’s voter rolls. A judge has not yet ruled on the complaint or Benson’s requested dismissal. 

A separate GOP lawsuit in 2021 was voluntarily dismissed when the Michigan secretary of state agreed to slate 177,000 inactive voters for removal.

Enjoy this story? Ask your own 2024 elections question here, and register to join our next Bridge Elections FAQ live show, which is set for Monday at 11:30 a.m.

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