By the twentieth century, when Communism and Fascism reared their heads as forms of totalitarianism, Democracy had already become so ingrained in the public mind that these and other types of dictatorship found it necessary to adopt democratic forms such as elections and constitutions. Of course they controlled the elections in ways that democrats did not.
The history of democracy in the United States since the American Revolution has been one of expanding and enlarging the franchise and including more citizens in determining who makes decisions. In the 1820's American states began repealing property ownership as a requirement to vote so that by the end of the Jacksonian era all white males were eligible to register and vote. During the Civil War absentee balloting especially for military was introduced. After the Civil War race was removed as a bar to voting, but universal male suffrage lasted only about ten years. Then during the WWI era women won the right to vote. In the 1960's the promise of the 15th amendment was kept with the Voting Rights Act and we had universal adult suffrage. We abolished the poll tax and the literacy test- devices that were used to keep poor people and blacks from registering. Finally with the Vietnam War the voting age was lowered to eighteen.
As the franchise has been expanded so too were registration procedures reformed; until by the second half of the twentieth century America had permanent personal registration (rather than annual) and it was possible for citizens groups to register voters at tables at parks and festivals and shopping areas. Year round registration by mail was introduced.
Now due to concerted and coordinated radical Republican campaigns in almost forty states efforts are being made to restrict the franchise so as to assure Republican victories. Proposals that would reduce the number of poor, young and minority voters are being pushed in those states because those three demographic groups tend to vote Democratic. Raising the phony cry of “Voter Fraud” and claiming that thousands of people repeat vote using false identity (no evidence of such in any state since before the Great Depression) the strongest push is for Voter ID bills that would require a voter to produce a picture id card (college cards not allowed) when voting. If you don’t have a drivers license (which 2/3 to 3/4 of urban residents do not) you can get something else. So if you don’t drive or are poor or don’t need a photo id for another purpose you just don’t register and don’t vote. The radical republicans have carried this notion to the point now of proposing that if a woman marries after registering she must change her registration surname to the married name and produce a marriage certificate when she goes to vote.
There are other proposals floating around to restrict the franchise and to rig the elections. One would bar young people from voting from their college dorm even if they are going to spend four years in that area - and we’re talking about restricting their voting for President and federal officials not town council. Another would require every new registrant to show proof of citizenship. With today’s databases and computers it is no great problem for the county boards of elections to check on birth and citizenship status something they’ve done for decades without computers.
Democrats should be fighting back against these radical Republican ideas. The Democratic Party since the days of Andrew Jackson has always supported expansion of the franchise (though it opposed the Civil War amendments, Democrats led the fight for the Voting Rights Act.). Republicans like their Federalist forebears have always supported a restricted franchise. Some Republicans today even hold with a recent spokesman at a Tea Party rally who advocated restoring property (land) holding as a requisite for voting arguing that only people with a “stake” in society should have the right to vote.
If you can’t win an election steal it seems to be the mantra of the Republicans who still revel in their two stolen Presidencies 1876 and 2000. But stealing an election after the votes are cast can be a messy business and attract a lot of publicity and even end up in the Courts. And it doesn’t always work witness Minnesota where they couldn’t count out Senator Franken. So now the new radical right wing Republicans want to steal elections in advance by identifying those who vote Democrat and making it almost impossible for them to register and vote. Having succeeded under President Bush in passing the so-called trick named Help America Vote Act which has put most of the country back on paper ballots (under the guise that machines can read the ballots so that equates to electronic voting when it is of course electronic counting) they find that those pesky people the voters still find ways to vote for who they want. The Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin is reported to have said “It doesn’t matter who votes what matters is who counts the votes” Well, radical Republicans don’t want to take any chances they want to restrict who can vote so it doesn’t matter who controls the count.