Similar thoughts occurred to me some years ago. I found myself in similar circumstances on many occasions in my youth (not that I'm all that old). The best thing I could come up with was to have everyone start with no voting privileges and require that everyone earn them in some as-yet unspecified manner.
Everyone who has read Robert A. Heinlein's Starship Troopers will recognize that solution. Many who like this argument point to mandatory military service in Israel and Switzerland. I, for one, would want to make sure that the conscientious objector option remains available.
Back then, I came up with what I thought were some pretty good ideas: IQ testing, proficiency tests, caregiving, community service, wage-earning ability (!?!), lottery (anyone remember the comic strip President Bill?), etc. Most of these had been thought of long before I came along and were wisely discarded. As appealing as some of these ideas are, the biggest difficulty is figuring out who can be trusted to choose the requirements for who gets to vote and who doesn't.
The United States of America has tried several ways to limit voting to a select subset of society.
- Originally, only land-owning men had the franchise. The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extended the vote to black men in 1874. The 19th Amendment removed the gender restriction in 1920. The inhabitants of Washington, D.C. were granted the vote in 1961 by the 23rd Amendment.
- Poll taxes were used to prevent freed slaves and other poor people from voting (a workaround for the 19th Amendment). The 24th Amendment ended this practice in 1964.
- Minimum voting age. Currently you must be 18 years old to vote in national elections. This was lowered from 21 by the 26th Amendment in 1971.
- A felony record and other criminal convictions can cost citizens their voting privileges.
- The citizens of the various U.S. territories and protectorates, like the 3.7 million American citizens living in Puerto Rico, do not get to vote. In exchange, for better or worse, they do not pay federal personal income tax.
Maybe the best way is to give people a choice and trade it for something good (Lifetime minimum income? Low, flat tax rate?). That way, we'd end up being ruled by people willing to make a sacrifice for the privilege. Maybe we'd have better representation, too.
Lastly, I direct your attention to http://www.bconnex.net/~cspcc/crime_prevention/rights.htm to read a good argument for why children should get to vote. Essentially, this article attempts to rebut the argument that children shouldn't be able to vote because they are incapable of making informed decisions. The article argues that since there is no way to to determine which adults are voting responsibly children should not be held to such high standards.