Michigan Removes 177,000 Voters From Voter Rolls After Legal Challenge

Election watchdog calls settlement a check on voter fraud

A sign directs residents to vote in the 2016 Michigan primary in Royal Oak, a Detroit suburb / Getty Images
February 16, 2021

The Michigan secretary of state removed 177,000 inactive voters from the state's voter rolls after settling a legal challenge.

The state removed the names from the voter rolls in late January because the voters no longer live in the state or did not respond to the state's inquiries about their addresses, according to a Tuesday district court announcement. The state performed the post-election audit during a legal battle with the Honest Elections Project, an election watchdog.

Jason Snead, head of the Honest Elections Project, which supported the lawsuit, said the state's decision to remove the voters will help combat any allegations of voter fraud. "The last thing that we want is to create a system in which you could have widespread voter fraud or where it's impossible to debunk false allegations of widespread voter fraud because you are undermining or failing to act on the necessary measures that help to prevent fraud and bolster confidence in the democratic process," he said.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D.) called the move a victory for transparency.

"Since November, my administration has continued to work with election officials across our state to review and strengthen all our election processes and protocols, in preparation for 2021’s local elections," Benson said in a press release. "When carried out transparently, accurately and in accordance with federal law, list maintenance is an important element of ensuring Michigan’s election system remains secure."

Benson also admitted that Michigan's list of registered voters lacked "sufficient comprehensive efforts" to maintain its accuracy. Her office did not respond to a request for comment.

The move comes after President Joe Biden won the state by more than 100,000 votes, securing its 16 electoral votes. Benson said the state removed the voters after sending a notice prior to the 2018 elections requiring a response or some sort of voting activity. A Michigan voter who is removed from the list is able to re-register in the state before the next election.

Michigan state senator and former secretary of state Ruth Johnson (R.) said an updated  voter registration roll is "the best foundation for integrity in our elections."

"[I] think it is unfortunate that a lawsuit was needed to finally bring about what should have been routine list maintenance activities," Johnson said.

Tony Daunt, a conservative activist recently selected to serve on the state's election certification panel, brought the lawsuit along with the Honest Elections Project. Daunt praised the purge but said that Benson should have acted sooner.

"The National Voter Registration Act protects the franchise of every Michigan voter, and it's disappointing—but not surprising—that it took a federal lawsuit to force Secretary Benson to comply with election law," Daunt said.

Daunt and the Honest Elections Project filed the lawsuit in February 2020, sparking a year-long litigation process. Benson sent ballot applications to every voter in the state in May, drawing the ire of then-president Donald Trump. Approximately 500,000 of those applications were returned to the state because the recipient died or had moved. Benson said the state would examine the returned ballots after the election because of a federal law preventing the changing of voter lists in the 90 days before an election.