Posts falsely claim there are only 133 million registered voters in the US
CLAIM: There are 133 million registered voters in the United States so if President Donald Trump got 74 million votes, President-elect Joe Biden could not have received 81 million votes.
AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The number of registered voters in the U.S. is far greater than 133 million.
THE FACTS: False claims about the 2020 presidential election persist online, including the bogus allegation that vote tallies in the presidential race don’t add up because they exceed the total number of registered voters in the country.
“Donald Trump got 74 million votes and There are 133 million registered voters in the USA,” reads a popular but inaccurate tweet that was shared more than 10,000 times. “If every single registered voter went out and voted there would only be 59 million votes left for Biden. How did he get 81 million votes?”
A screenshot of the post was shared thousands of times on Facebook.
The posts rely on an incorrect number of total registered voters -- 133 million -- to make this claim.
It is unclear where the false number came from, but it is substantially lower than the 211 million registered voters who appeared on voter rolls in 2018. That number comes from the Election Assistance Commission’s 2018 Election Administration and Voting Survey, which asks local election officials to report registration numbers.
Stephen Ansolabehere, a voter registration expert and professor of government at Harvard University told the AP the 2020 survey is not completed yet. He said he expects 2020 voter registration numbers to be greater than the 211 million figure from 2018.
The 133 million figure shared on social media is also far lower than the more than 136 million ballots cast in the 2016 election. “The number of 133 million registered voters is plainly false,” said Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political scientist who runs the election data site, U.S. Election Project.
While experts all agree the 133 million figure is far too low for 2020, coming up with the precise number of American registered voters at a given moment is not straight forward.
Each state manages its own voter rolls, and people are constantly registering, dying and moving to new states, leading to changes in the totals and duplications. Furthermore, states differ in how they manage their rolls. For example, some states have a category of registered voters who are marked as “inactive” and North Dakota does not have voter registration.
Jonathan Robinson, lead research scientist at Catalist, a voter list vendor that sells data to political campaigns, said it is challenging to pinpoint the number of registered voters in the U.S. “These numbers are ever-evolving, there really isn’t one number,” Robinson said. “Sometimes the most simple mundane questions are actually very fraught.”
Robinson estimates the number of registered voters ahead of the Nov. 3 election was somewhere between 195 million and 215 million, depending on how the data is analyzed and which suspected duplicate or ineligible voters were excluded.
Brandi Travis, a spokesperson for Aristotle, another voter list vendor, told AP it had more than 215 million registered voters in its database. The voter list vendor L2, whose customers include The Associated Press, estimated the number at eligible registrants at 200 million before the Nov. 3 election. Paul Westcott, L2 senior vice president, said that figure accounted for removing duplicate voters, people who have died and people who appeared on the rolls of more than one state due to a recent move.
Most election researchers tend to focus on the number of people in the country who are eligible to vote, rather than those who are registered to vote. The U.S. Elections Project estimates 239 million Americans were eligible to vote based on their age and citizenship. That number also omits those who are prevented from voting in certain states due to a previous felony conviction.
According to Dec. 18 data from the AP, Biden received 81,281,888 votes and Trump received 74,223,251 votes. The U.S. Elections Project estimates that more than 159 million Americans participated in the 2020 election.
This is part of The Associated Press’ ongoing effort to fact-check misinformation that is shared widely online, including work with Facebook to identify and reduce the circulation of false stories on the platform.
Here’s more information on Facebook’s fact-checking program: https://www.facebook.com/help/1952307158131536