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The most complete accounting of votes cast in the 2020 election tallied 161 million votes.
The most complete accounting of registered voters tallied 209 million active voters.
There were 48 million more registered voters than ballots cast.
In the race to fill the U.S. Senate seat now held by retiring Republican Rob Portman, all but one of the candidates for the Republican nomination cast suspicion on the 2020 presidential election. At a recent debate, businessman Mike Gibbons, a top contender, repeated a favored talking point.
"Five million more people voted than were registered to vote," Gibbons said March 28. "And that’s according to the U.S. Census Bureau. There’s a problem. We need to investigate it. The Jan. 6 commission should be investigating that instead of some sort of false accusation of some sort of insurrection."
Gibbons is wrong. No numbers back up his claim of 5 million more votes cast than there were people registered to vote. We’ve checked iterations of this statement before and found them false. Gibbons’ invocation of the Census Bureau failed to improve his accuracy.
The Census Bureau reported in April 2021 that its surveys found 168,308,000 registered voters, and 154,628,000 votes cast in the 2020 election. Neither is an exact figure; these estimates are based on people’s answers to survey questions. But since Gibbons name checked the Census Bureau, it’s worth noting that, according to the bureau, there were at least 13 million more registered voters than people who voted.
That’s the opposite of what Gibbons asserted as fact.
Gibbons spoke as if the Census Bureau was the gold standard for election results. But data collected from the states gives a more accurate picture of the number of registered voters and the number of ballots cast.
In its latest report to Congress, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission said numbers sent to them by state election officials showed there were 209,441,338 active registered voters in 2020, more than the Census Bureau found. "Active" registered voters includes people who meet every requirement to walk into a polling station and cast a ballot.
Finding that number nationwide isn’t as simple as it might seem. Not every state automatically reports the distinction between people who have voted recently and those who haven’t in a long time and need to reconfirm their address and voting status before they can vote.
University of Georgia political scientist Trey Hood said there can be other complications in working with state data.
"Some states have same-day registration during early voting, or Election-Day registration," Hood said. "Some of these figures may not get lumped in with existing registrants, depending on how the state records these statistics."
The commission’s questionnaire to state election officials aimed to cut through the clutter and capture the truest estimate of the people ready and eligible to vote.
As for how many actually voted, the commission reported 161,303,109 ballots cast.
There are other wrinkles to the data. Not every ballot included a vote for president. University of Florida political scientist Michael McDonald estimated that the figure for the presidential election could be closer to 158,407,000.
Readers might find other numbers, based on earlier reporting and preliminary statistics, but in every case, the number of people who voted is many millions less than the number of people registered to vote.
Based on the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s work, there were about 48 million fewer votes cast than the number of registered voters, meaning than in total, Gibbons was off by about 53 million.
Gibbons said that according to the Census Bureau, "5 million more people voted than were registered to vote" in the 2020 election.
Contrary to what Gibbons said, the Census Bureau estimated that 13 million fewer people voted than were registered to vote. That was based on statistical sampling in a survey.
The U.S. Election Commission worked directly with state election officials and found that 43 million fewer people voted than were registered to vote. That report came out last year.
We rate this claim Pants on Fire.
Ohio Debate Commission, Ohio US Senate Republican Debate, March 28, 2022
U.S. Census Bureau, Voting and Registration in the Election of November 2020, April 2021
U.S. Election Assistance Commission, Election administration and voting survey 2020 comprehensive report, Aug. 16, 2021
United States Election Project, 2020 November General Election Turnout Rates, Dec. 7, 2020
PolitiFact, No, there weren’t more votes than registered voters in the 2020 election, March 1, 2021
Reuters, Fact check: ‘133 million registered voters’ argument uses flawed logic, Jan. 1, 2020
Email exchange, Trey Hood, professor of political science, University of Georgia, April 1, 2022
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