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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.

Nevil Shute in his 1952 book, "In the Wet" came up with a novel solution to the issues outlined above. Basically, he portrayed a situation in an alterate Australia where, although suffrage was universal, people were able to 'earn' a larger say in how their country was run.

I don't necessarily agree with Shute, but nonetheless, his ideas were very interesting.

In his system of government, people were able to acquire up to seven votes, alloted in the following way:

  • The Basic vote, which every citizen received.
  • The Education vote, given to those who studied to degree level.
  • The Military Service vote (self explanatory).
  • The Family vote, given to a couple who stayed together long enough to raise their children to adulthood.
  • The Business vote given to employers, on the basis that in providing work for others they were contributing more to the country.
  • The Travel vote, awarded to those who had lived and worked overseas, on the basis of the broader experience and knowledge they had gained.
  • The Special vote, awarded only for instances of outstanding service to Queen and Country (Shute's Australia was still actively part of the British Empire).

Any citizen could acquire any of the votes, each one being awarded independently of the others. It is worth noting that Shute himself was rabidly anti-socialist, so his criteria for gaining a vote tended to the right-wing, but it is also worth commenting that solid contribution to a community was worth more in his eyes than any form of intellectual elitism. It didn't rely on sixth-grade tests or cleverness, but on what each person actually did. Nobody was disenfranchised, nobody disregarded, and literally everybody had the opportunity to earn a greater voting power.

Oh, and the book has a really great plot, too -- it's an involving political thriller ... worth a read, if you can find it.

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