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Voters wait in line to fill out a ballot on the last day of early absentee voting before the general election at the Northwest Activities Center in Detroit, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (AP) Voters wait in line to fill out a ballot on the last day of early absentee voting before the general election at the Northwest Activities Center in Detroit, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (AP)

Voters wait in line to fill out a ballot on the last day of early absentee voting before the general election at the Northwest Activities Center in Detroit, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher March 1, 2021

No, there weren’t more votes than registered voters in the 2020 election

If Your Time is short

  • Experts say as many as 215 million voters were registered for the 2020 election.

  • That far outnumbers the 159 million ballots cast.

An image widely shared on Facebook suggested that 26 million votes were fraudulently cast in the 2020 presidential election.

It’s wrong. 

It grossly understates the number of registered voters.

The image depicts a classroom in which a white student asks a question and a Black teacher responds:

"America has 133 million registered voters. How could 159 million votes be cast?"

"That’s not important. What’s important is that you’re a racist."

The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

The number of registered voters is difficult to pinpoint — each state manages its own voter rolls, and with different rules; and the numbers change as voters register, move to another state or die. Some states allow voters to register on Election Day.

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But experts put the figure for the 2020 election at well above 200 million, or far more than the 159 million ballots that were cast.

Registered voters 

David Becker, executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, told PolitiFact there were nearly 215 million registered voters in 2020.

World Population Review estimated 213.8 million. That was based on counts done in each state, and those counts were done at different times during the year, ranging from March 1, 2020, to Nov. 4, 2020, the day after the election. 

Estimates made by experts quoted by the Associated Press ranged from 195 million to 215 million.

Ballots cast and counted

According to the United States Election Project, which is run by University of Florida political science professor Michael McDonald, 159,690,457 ballots were counted in the November election, including 158,254,475 that contained votes for president.

The project is "the gold standard of turnout statistics," said Charles Stewart, founding director of the MIT Election Data Science Lab. 

Another sign that the 133 million figure for registered voters is way off: In the 2016 election, according to the Florida project, 138,846,571 ballots were cast, including 136,753,936 for president.

We rate the statement False.

Our Sources

Facebook post, Feb. 26, 2021

USA Today, "Fact check: Over 159 million people voted in the US general election," Dec. 31, 2020

Snopes, "Does ‘Simple Math’ Show Biden Received More Votes Than Eligible Voters?", Dec. 31, 2020

PolitiFact, "Bogus analysis leads to ridiculous claim about Biden votes," Dec. 23, 2020

Email, David Becker, executive Director and founder, Center for Election Innovation and Research, March 1, 2021

Email, MIT Election Data Science Lab founding director Charles Stewart, March 1, 2021

Email, National Association of State Election Directors executive director Amy Cohen, March 1, 2021

United States Election Project, "2020 November General Election Turnout Rates," Dec. 7, 2020

United States Election Project, "2016 November General Election Turnout Rates," Sept. 5, 2018

Reuters, "Fact check: ‘133 million registered voters’ argument uses flawed logic," Jan. 1, 2021

WTHR.com, "VERIFY: Were there more votes cast in the 2020 election than registered voters?", Jan. 2, 2021

Associated Press, "Posts falsely claim there are only 133 million registered voters in the US," Jan 2, 2021

World Population Review, "Number Of Registered Voters by State 2021," accessed March 1, 2021

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More by Tom Kertscher

No, there weren’t more votes than registered voters in the 2020 election

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