The Omnibus Voter Suppression Bills We Saw This Session

Three books stacked on top of each other with white pages, reading Ohio, Florida and North Carolina on the side of each book, in front of a red background with outlines of the 3 states.

For those familiar with the term omnibus bill, the 12 major appropriations bills that often collectively pass the United States Congress each year as one big bill probably come to mind. But that’s clearly not the thinking of multiple Republican-led states, which instead have coopted the process to pass major voter suppression bills this session. Florida and Ohio have already passed these dangerous packages, and North Carolina could be next. As expected, lawsuits were quickly filed in Florida and Ohio, where litigation is ongoing.  

Ohio passed the first voter suppression law of 2023.

Ohio was the first state to enact an omnibus voter suppression law this year, with Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signing House Bill 458 on Jan. 6 and the bill going into effect on April 7. The omnibus voter suppression law vastly expands voter ID requirements, making it so that all voters must have a photo ID to vote, with the lone exception of those claiming religious objection to being photographed. The ID requirements are so stringent that free military IDs given out by Ohio counties are no longer an acceptable proof of ID. Beyond photo ID, H.B. 458 requires Ohians to provide their drivers license, last four digits of their Social Security number or a photo ID copy when applying for a mail-in ballot or registering to vote. 

The Ohio law also takes multiple swipes at mail-in voting, shortening the timeline for voters to request, return and fix mail-in ballots as well as eliminating in person voting on the day prior to Election Day. Drop boxes are also hampered, as the bill limits each county to just one drop box location as well as one election office.

Shortly after DeWine signed H.B. 458, a group of pro-voting organizations sued the state in federal court. They allege that the bill “will severely restrict Ohioan’s access to the polls particularly those voters who are young, elderly, and Black, as well as those serving in the military and others living abroad,” and “imposes needless and discriminatory burdens on Ohioans’ fundamental right to vote,” thereby violating the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Though the bill was enacted under the guise of securing elections, the plaintiffs point out that the bill is a “solution in search of a problem.” Ohio’s elections are already extremely secure, and Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) has described Ohio’s election security as the “gold standard.” The Ohio Republican Party subsequently filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit, which the plaintiffs opposed. On April 18, a judge granted the motion. Further action has yet to take place since then and litigation is ongoing in a federal district court.

Florida passed an elections bill so extreme that it now faces three separate lawsuits.

In May, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed Senate Bill 7050, an omnibus elections bill that directly harms voters in the Sunshine State. The law worsens Florida’s already aggressive voter suppression operation as just two years ago, DeSantis enacted another omnibus law, Senate Bill 90, restricting mail-in voting, drop boxes and voter registration. S.B. 7050 builds on S.B. 90 by attacking third-party voter registration organizations (3PVROs), requiring them to re-register every election cycle, prohibiting them from pre-filing information on voter registration applications, shortening the amount of time that these organizations have to return applications and increasing potential fines on 3PVROs.

In addition to imposing restrictions on 3PVROs, S.B. 7050 also strengthens list maintenance requirements, mandating that election officials review registrations at least once a year and speeding up the removal process by adding deadlines for voters to respond to notices of removal. Pro-voting advocates have warned the move will lead to voters having their registrations purged. 

Following the bill’s signing, three separate lawsuits challenging S.B. 7050 were quickly filed. Collectively, the lawsuits challenge multiple provisions of the law that limit 3PVROs, arguing that the restrictions violate the First and 14th amendments of the U.S. Constitution. The plaintiffs in each case ask the court to block various challenged provisions of S.B. 7050. The challenged provisions include:

  • Banning noncitizen volunteers and individuals with certain felony convictions from conducting voter registration on behalf of 3PVROs, with a $50,000 fine for those who violate the prohibition,
  • Mandating that all 3PVROs provide a receipt to each voter registration applicant containing identifying information,
  • Shortening the number of days 3PVROs are given to return voter registration applications, with a fine for late returned applications,
  • Requiring 3PRVROs to re-register each general election cycle,
  • Criminalizing retaining voter information for any purpose except voter registration and
  • Barring any individual beyond an immediate family member from submitting a ballot on behalf of another voter.

In the lawsuits, the plaintiffs argue that the provisions disproportionately burden young voters, non-English speaking voters and Black and Latino voters, emphasizing the fact that people of color are five times as likely to use 3PVROs to vote than white voters. A federal judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in two of the three lawsuits, and temporarily blocked the provision barring noncitizens from registering voters as well as the provision that bans 3PVROs from retaining  voter information. The Florida secretary of state and attorney general appealed both decisions to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In the third lawsuit, a judge declined to block the challenged provisions of the law immediately, but agreed to let the case proceed. All three cases are ongoing. 

North Carolina is considering an omnibus bill seemingly inspired by former Trump lawyer, Cleta Mitchell. 

On June 1, North Carolina Senate Republicans introduced Senate Bill 747, an omnibus election bill that makes voting harder in the Tar Heel State. Just one day later, a local North Carolina outlet reported that the Election Integrity Network, a radical right-wing group led in part by the former Trump lawyer Cleta Mitchell, may have helped craft S.B. 747. Mitchell was part of the effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election and has called for banning voting on college campuses and ending the practice of automatically mailing ballots to registered voters. Internal documents revealed by the local outlet, WRAL, show that the just introduced bill is eerily similar to proposals made by Mitchell. For example, of the nine changes wanted by Mitchell’s group to mail-in voting, seven are included in S.B. 747.

The North Carolina Legislature could vote on S.B. 747 at any moment. In fact, later today, the House Committee on Election Law and Campaign Finance Reform will meet to discuss the bill and potential amendments. The bill would be the first major election package to become law in North Carolina since 2013, when the state passed a bill that was later struck down by a federal court for disproportionately burdening Black voters “with surgical precision.” S.B. 747 would deal a blow to mail-in voting — shortening the mail-in ballot receipt deadline and requiring a “two-factor authentication process” for mail-in ballots. The bill also mandates that any voter who utilized same-day registration cast a provisional ballot, and makes it easier to challenge voters’ eligibility. The bill additionally bans private funding for election administration, a trend seen in Republican states nationwide following conspiracy theories attacking the practice. 

If the legislature passes the bill, Gov. Roy Cooper (D) is expected to veto it, however Republicans in the Legislature, who now constitute a supermajority after a Democratic legislator switched her party affiliation, have the votes to overrule his veto. If that happens, pro-voting groups are likely to sue over the anti-voting provisions in S.B. 747. 

While the ultimate fate of these omnibus voter suppression bills remains to be seen, what is clear is Republicans’ legislative priorities. Suppressing the vote in any way they can is their focus, regardless of any legal challenges that may try to stop them.