Michigan sets records in midterm voting. Turnout is another story.

It was a record midterm election in Michigan last week. More Michiganders are registered to vote than ever before and more people voted — more than half of the state's voting-age population.

But what about voter turnout?

The chart below shows the voter turnout rate for midterm elections — the percentage who actually take part — measured in two different ways. The blue line shows voter turnout as the percentage of registered voters and the orange line shows the turnout rate relative to the voting-age population.

Historically, the gap between registered voter turnout and voting-age population turnout has been wide. That's because not everyone who is eligible to vote is registered to vote. This leads to an overestimate of voter turnout.

The total voting-age population is not a perfect way to gauge voter turnout either. Only U.S. citizens are eligible to vote and people who are serving a jail or prison sentence cannot vote in Michigan. Voter turnout is underestimated with this measure.

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Over time, however, the gap between registered voter turnout and the voting-age population in Michigan has declined. There was a 16-percentage-point gap in 1958 after the state first started tracking Election Day voter registration statistics. In 2018, the last midterm for which official election statistics are available, the gap was just under 3 percentage points. That year marked the largest increase in voter turnout between two midterm elections.

Brady Baybeck, an associate professor of political science at Wayne State University, says he is not surprised by the diminishing gap. "If you make registration seamless and register every eligible person older than 18," he said, "then the number of registered voters will match the number of eligible voters."

In 2018, voters made sweeping changes to Michigan's election law. Thanks to Proposal 3, Promote the Vote automatically registers qualified citizens to vote when they obtain a driver's license or personal identification card from the Secretary of State's Office, unless they decline. The changes also included same-day voter registration and no-reason absentee voting. Separately, the Michigan Legislature passed a measure to authorize electronic voter registration, made effective in 2019.

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"The modernizations passed in the last few years have successfully met voters where they're at so that they are able to access the vote," said Merissa Kovach, legislative director at American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan. "No matter what they have going on in their lives ... they're not going to lose their right to vote because their options are so limited."

Last week, voters approved Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment that establishes early voting and expands access to absentee voting.

What about 2022?

So is voter turnout up or down this year? The answer, as we saw above, depends on how you measure it.

The latest available population figures from the U.S. Census Bureau estimate 7.9 million residents ages 18 and older in Michigan last year. If you compare the total votes last week to the most recent census estimate, voter turnout rose in 2022 to 56.8% — greater than in 2018 and just a few percentage points shy of the record set in 1962 (although this rate is likely to change when the U.S. Census Bureau releases 2022 voting-age population figures).

On the other hand, based on the number of registered voters in the state, voter turnout fell in 2022. Michigan voter turnout was 54.5%, according to unofficial results — lower than in 2018 (58%). Voter registration in Michigan increased at a faster pace than the number of total ballots cast between 2018 and 2022.

On Election Day, the number of registered voters swelled in the state to more than 8.2 million people, an increase of roughly 750,000 from October 2018. That's three times the rate of the increase in votes.

But wait, we don't have 8.2 million people 18 and older living in Michigan.

Correct. Among those 8.2 million registered voters only 7.3 million are active, according to the Secretary of State's Office. And more than 500,000 inactive voter registrations are slated for removal by 2025.

Before cancellation, clerks are required to send a notice to the voter's Michigan address. If there is no response or voting activity within two November elections held in even-numbered years the registration is canceled.

It's better to err on the side of caution, Baybeck said. "If you want to make voting easy and get people to vote, then you should keep them on the rolls.

"The next issue is how do you get people to actually show up to vote?"

Contact Kristi Tanner: ktanner@freepress.com. Follow her on Twitter: @midatalove.

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This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan sets records in midterm voting. Turnout is another story.