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Michigan ranks third for voter registration. Democrats push for more

people voting at the polls
Democratic legislation would expand Michigan’s automatic voter registration system (Bridge file photo)
  • Michigan House approves plan to expand automatic voter registration over GOP objections
  • Bills would enroll Medicaid applicants and returning prisoners
  • Michigan already ranks third in the nation for voter registration rate

LANSING — Michigan Democrats are moving to boost the state's already high voter registration rate with a new plan they say could give hundreds of thousands of eligible residents the chance to cast ballots. 

Legislation approved Wednesday by the state House despite Republican opposition would expand Michigan's existing system of automatically registering U.S. citizens who apply for a driver license, unless they opt out. 


Under the bills, citizens would also automatically be registered to vote when they apply for Michigan's government-run Medicaid health insurance program or seek to reinstate their driver license upon release from prison.


Other state agencies could automatically register residents too, provided they have systems in place to prove the individuals are citizens eligible to vote using documents currently required for a driver's license or Medicaid.

Michigan already has the third-highest voter registration in the country, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. About 77 percent of the state's voting-age population was registered in 2022. 

The new proposal, advanced to the Senate in a series of party-line votes, is "the next step" for Michigan’s "fantastic voter registration system," sponsoring Rep. Penelope Tsernoglou, D-East Lansing, said during a recent committee hearing.

"For good democracy, our goal should be that every citizen has the opportunity to vote," added Tsernoglou, who chairs the House Elections Committee. 

The legislation comes as Democrats nationwide seek to expand registrations and make it easier to vote, moves that some Republicans have said would benefit Democrats. Research about voting patterns of prisoners and Medicaid recipients, however, is far from conclusive, showing more bipartisanship.

In Michigan, Republicans opposed the latest legislation, citing projected cost increases for state government and arguing the proposal would do little to repair public distrust in the election process. 

A record 4.5 million Michigan voters cast ballots in the 2022 midterm election that saw Democrats sweep top statewide offices, but another 3 million voting-age residents did not participate, according to the Census data. 

"Their lack of participation in our election process proves they've lost faith in our institution to the point where they don't think that their vote matters," said Rep. Josh Schriver, R-Oxford. 

"If your goal here is to increase voter turnout in a substantial way, then we have to work to restore faith in our government," he added.


The proposal is supported by Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, whose office would be required to send a notice to any newly enrolled voter allowing them to decline the automatic registration by returning a form.

The notice would also include information on how the newly registered voter could apply for an absentee ballot. 

Democrats say the proposal would streamline in-person voter registrations, reduce election-day registrations and help maintain "clean" voting rolls by requiring local clerks to begin the process of removing voters if the state registration notice is returned as "undeliverable."

"This is gonna save time, it's gonna save money, and maybe — just maybe, and hopefully — it can help save democracy," state Rep. Dylan Wegela, D-Garden City, said last month.

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