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Voter registration cancellation procedures

How voter rolls are maintained in Michigan

Michigan’s list of registered voters is maintained on the Qualified Voter File, a database developed by the state of Michigan and maintained by municipal and county clerks and the Bureau of Elections. The Qualified Voter File contains the names of all individuals registered to vote in Michigan. It also contains the names of individuals with cancelled registrations, who are no longer eligible to vote in Michigan.  The Qualified Voter File is constantly updated whenever a new voter registers, a voter updates his or her registration information (such as an address), or a voter’s registration is cancelled.

Voter registrations are cancelled primarily for one of four reasons:

  • A voter moves away from their voting jurisdiction.
  • A voter dies.
  • A voter registration is identified as a duplicate.
  • A voter requests that his or her registration be cancelled.

Local and state election officials use a variety of methods to identify voters whose address changes.

  • As part of the Michigan’s automatic voter registration law, when a registered voter updates his or her driver’s license or state ID address, the voter’s registration is also updated. If a voter moves within his or her city or township, the registration moves to the voter’s new address. If a voter moves to a different city or township in Michigan, the voter’s previous registration is cancelled, and the voter is automatically re-registered at his or her new address.
  • When a voter surrenders his or her Michigan Driver’s license in a different state, the Michigan Department of State receives this information. The Bureau of Elections uses this as initial information that the voter may have moved. The Bureau sends a notice of cancellation to the voter’s address in Michigan. If the voter does not respond and does not have any voting activity by the second even-year November federal election following the notice, the voter’s registration is cancelled. After the notice is sent, the voter is marked inactive and can still vote until the cancellation occurs.
  • When election mail (such as a voter information card or absent voter ballot application) sent to a voter by a clerk is returned by the United States Postal Service as undeliverable, clerks use this as initial information that the voter may have moved. The clerk sends a notice of cancellation to the voter’s address in Michigan. If the voter does not respond and does not have any voting activity by the second even-year federal election following the notice, the voter’s registration is cancelled. After the notice is sent, the voter is marked inactive and can still vote until the cancellation occurs.

State and local election officials were able to identity a significant number of registered voters who appeared to have changed address through the statewide mailing of absent voter ballot applications in 2020, the first statewide election mailing in at least a decade. State and local officials used applications that were returned as undeliverable to mark voters as inactive and send notices of cancellation in 2021 and without action by these voters the registrations will be cancelled after the two-federal-election waiting period expires in 2024. Because of this, many more voter registrations were identified and will be cancelled after 2024 than after 2022.

Voters also receive other election mailings including absent voter ballot applications and notifications when voters have either a new precinct or polling place, or at least one new election district. When this happens, the clerk sends the voter a new voter information card (also known as a voter id card) with the voter’s new voting information. (an example follows)

Example of a voter ID card

Under the Michigan Election Law these notices must be sent to all registered voters including inactive voters. When these voter information cards are returned undeliverable, clerks will inactivate the voters’ registrations and send them notices of cancellation; these voters will also be scheduled for cancellation after two federal elections.

  • Michigan also receives information from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a bipartisan group of states and Washington, DC, who share voter registration data with each other for the purpose of keeping voter rolls complete, up to date, and accurate. When Michigan receives information through the ERIC program that a voter has registered in another state more recently than their activity in Michigan, the Bureau of Elections uses this as initial information that the voter may have moved. The Bureau sends a notice of cancellation to the voter’s address in Michigan. If the voter does not respond and does have any voting activity by the second even-year federal election following the notice, the voter’s registration is cancelled. After the notice is sent, the voter is marked inactive and can still vote until the cancellation occurs.

Election officials also have multiple ways of identifying voters who die.

  • When someone dies and their death record is processed, this information is sent to the Social Security Administration and added to the Master Death Index. The Michigan Department of State receives this information from the Social Security Administration. On a weekly basis, the Bureau of Elections cancels the voter registrations of all registered voters who appear on the Master Death Index report.
  • County clerks also inform a city or township clerks when they process death records for an individual registered to vote in that city or township. Although the vast majority of these deceased individuals are also identified through the Master Death Index, county clerks may be able to provide this information to municipal clerks most quickly. This is useful in the days leading up to elections, to allow the registrations of voters who become deceased to be cancelled more quickly.
  • City or Township clerks can also cancel registrations when they have personal knowledge that a registered voter has become deceased. For example, the city or township clerk may have an obituary, local death notice, or a written notification from next of kin.
  • Michigan also receives information from the ERIC program about Michigan voters who have died.
  • There are additional inactive registrations in QVF for voters who may have died or moved, but for whom death or residency information was never received by election officials. If an election official receives returned undeliverable mail for these individuals, the registration will be cancelled two federal election cycles after the notification is sent unless the voter responds or has voting activity. Election officials have also requested legislative changes that would allow additional methods of identifying, notifying, and eventually cancelling these registrations.

Election officials also use multiple procedures to prevent duplicate registrations and merge registration records when the duplicate is identified.

  • Whenever a new registration is processed in the Qualified Voter File, the file performs a match of the Voter File to determine if a registration already exists for that individual. If it does, the existing registration record is updated rather than a new registration record being created.
  • If a clerk believes a duplicate registration exists, the clerk notifies the Bureau of Elections. The Bureau researches the record to determine if there are duplicate registrations for the same individual, or if they are actually two individuals with similar names.
  • If the Bureau determines that an individual has duplicate registrations, the registration records are merged into one registration record.

Voters can also request that their registrations be cancelled.

  • Voters who wish to cancel their registrations can make a written request to their city or township clerk that their registration record be cancelled.
  • Voters who have received a notice of cancellation can respond to the notice confirming that their registration should be cancelled. This results in the registration being cancelled immediately, rather than at the end of the two-election waiting period.

Voter registration statistics

The total number of registered voters in Michigan is over 8 million. Go to Voter registration statistics for the current number and for a list of registered voters by county and for the total number of inactive voter registrations to be cancelled in future years.

What to do if you receive election mail for someone who no longer lives there

If you receive election mail for someone who no longer lives at your address, you have the opportunity to assist the U.S. Postal Service and your local clerk in updating the voter rolls. You should write “no longer at this address” on the piece of mail and put it back in the mailbox. The U.S. Postal Service will then notify your local clerk that election mail for that registered voter has been returned as undeliverable. The clerk will then send a notice of cancellation which will result in that registration being cancelled after two federal elections have passed.

If someone at the residence is deceased, you can write “deceased” on the piece of mail and put it back in the mailbox. If a family member in your residence has died, you can also contact your clerk in writing and inform them that the family member is deceased. You can also send an obituary or death notice to the clerk, who can use this information to cancel the voter registration, so your household no longer receives election mail for the person who has passed away.

What to do if you receive a notice of cancellation

If you receive a notice of cancellation mailing for your own voter registration, you can respond to the notification by mail or online, and you have the following options as to what you respond:

  • Request your voter registration be cancelled. If you select this option, your voter registration will be cancelled immediately.
  • Update your voter registration. If you have moved, you can update your voter registration to your new address.
  • Vote or request an absent voter ballot in an upcoming election. This will keep your voter registration active and your registration will not be cancelled.
  • Do nothing. If you don’t respond and don’t vote or request an absent voter ballot in an upcoming election, your registration will be cancelled after the second federal (even year November) election after you get the notice.

What to do if you haven’t gotten a notice, but wish to cancel your registration

If you want to cancel your voter registration immediately but you haven’t received a notice, you can contact your clerk in writing and request that your registration be cancelled.

What to do if your registration has been cancelled but you want to vote

If your registration has been cancelled but you still want to vote in Michigan, you will need to re-register. You can register to vote online or through any method of voter registration up to 15 days before an election. Within 14 days of an election, including on Election Day, you can register to vote at your city or township clerk’s office with residency verification. For more information, go to registering to vote.

Why is there a two-election waiting period before cancelling registrations for voters who move?

Both state and federal law require election officials to wait two federal elections before cancelling the registration of voters where the election official has received initial information that the person may have moved. The waiting period is required because sometimes the initial information suggesting that someone has moved does not mean they have actually changed their voting residency. For example, mail may be returned as undeliverable by mistake and the voter actually lives at the address. Or, someone may have changed their address for one purpose (such as a temporary work assignment, school, or military service) but they actually wish to continue voting in Michigan.

In addition, some voters who live in foreign countries may not have a U.S. address and they use their last U.S. address for voting residency purposes. Therefore, it is possible that someone who used to live at your residence is still legally using that address as their voting residence in Michigan, even though the person is currently living in a foreign country.

Voter cancellation figures

Nearly 100,000 registrations were cancelled in March 2023 because the voter no longer lives at the registration address. Either these individuals surrendered a Michigan driver's license to another state or election officials received election mail returned undeliverable or other information giving reason to believe the voter had changed their address. Before the 2020 election, they were sent notice that their registration would be subject to cancellation if they did not respond or engage in any voter activity in the subsequent two federal election cycles (2020 and 2022). The two-federal-cycle waiting period is required under state and federal law.

To ensure that voters who still live at their registered address had an additional opportunity to prevent cancellation, citizens and civic groups were able request a free copy of the list to review and notify local clerks of any errors or registrations that should be updated rather than cancelled.

Michigan voters whose registrations are cancelled can re-register at any time, including up to and on Election Day. Michigan residents who conduct identification or driver's license transactions with the Department of State by law must be registered to vote automatically unless they opt out.

As of March 2024, the Bureau of Elections and clerks across the state have canceled more than 800,000 voter registrations since 2019. This includes 532,513 voter registrations of people who have died, 273,609 registrations belonging to those who have received a cancellation notice based on a change of residency and did not respond to the notice or engage in voter activity in the two-federal-cycle period, and 16,716 registrations for people who requested to have their own records cancelled.

According to federal data, Michigan is one of the most active states in identifying and cancelling the registrations of deceased voters. The Election Assistance Commission reported that Michigan, which is the tenth largest state in the nation, removed the sixth largest total number of registrations based on death in the 2016 election cycle; the fourth most in the 2018 cycle; the fifth most in the 2020 cycle; and the fifth most in the 2022 cycle.

As of March 2024, there are more than 550,000 voter registrations currently slated for cancellation in 2025 or 2027. This number is higher than prior years in part because Secretary Benson sent election mail to every registered voter in 2020, and for those whose mail was returned undeliverable, the state sent a notice of cancellation prior to the 2022 election (no statewide election mailing had been conducted in the previous decade). In 2019, Michigan also joined ERIC, which provides data to Michigan on voters who have registered to vote in other states.