In my world, presidential elections occur every four years as usual in the United States. However, the United States has since added dozens more states to itself, many on planets outside of the solar system. Partial FTL has been developed for such purposes, but the FTL channel can only supply small amounts of data (on the order of dozens of bits per second). Would such an election be feasible (voting, recounts, debates, etc.) and if so how would it be different from the current elections?

More notes on my world:

  • FTL transmission occurs through "spooky action at-a-distance", occurring almost instantaneously.
  • The U.S. has a space force, which can be authorized to destroy runaway colonies. However, there is no faster-than-light travel, and colonies operate in near-autonomy.
  • Earth's colonies also have government at the colony level.
  • The electoral college is still in place.
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have some sort of FTL information transmission system? $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 17:51
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    $\begingroup$ Why not? Electoral college can be easily scaled up interplanetarily. Voting and recounts are local procedures for remote states. $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ @JakobLovern FTL communication would have to be in place for election results to get to Earth (home planet) in a timely fashion. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 17:52
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    $\begingroup$ Please edit your question to provide details, like FTL travel / FTL communication, is it direct or indirect election and so on. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 18:02
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    $\begingroup$ Better, but i'm not sure if good enough. We don't know who is electing, who is elected, what kind of democracy is it supposed to be, and so on, and so on. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 18:21

4 Answers 4



No, making a country that spans multiple planets is not a good idea.

While it is feasible(ish), it's certainly not very useful. Let's imagine a rudimentary system for the space of this answer. It consists of four worlds:

  • Earth
  • The Moon
  • Mars
  • Bob (orbiting a star 500 light years away)

Ok, so now let's try using a US style government:

Each planet is divided into 200(ish) 'states', which are equivalent to US states in function, but are much larger, approximately equal to countries on Earth. Further, each 'state' is divided into 'substates' which are the size of US states. Ergo, the organization chain-of-command might look something like:

  1. Federation of Planets
  2. Planet
  3. State
  4. Substate
  5. County
  6. Town

We'll assume that the Federation has a constitution similar to that of the US, and that laws work, like in the US in a top down jurisdiction (Ex. a law at the planet level holds across its planet) and a bottom-up importance (Ex. the Federation outlaws wearing tall hats, but Bob specifically permits it, so residents of the planet Bob are allowed to wear tall hats.)

Great! You have a functional country.

And then election time comes along. Since, for important plot reasons, the main government is situated in Oklahoma City, the president of the Federation has to live in the Octarine House. Now you have a conundrum. If we assume for a moment that a Jimothy, a ungendered person who lives on planet Bob, is elected by majority, then they need to travel to Earth to live in the Octarine House. Unfortunately, that leaves the Federation without a president for the next five hundred years while Jimothy uses relativistic travel to get to Earth.

If Bob isn't a source of candidates, then there's a big spat over government without proper representation, and that story has already been told.

But let's assume it happened anyways. In the above link, the parent government tried to put down the rebellion and it failed.

Earth can't even do that. For the same reason that Bob can't elect a president who lives there, Earth can't really attack Bob. Bob is, essentially, under its own rule.

  • $\begingroup$ Why can't everyone agree to let the capital move to the new president's home town? Further, maybe the cohesiveness of the 500-lightyear empire is ensured by automatic mutually assured destruction systems that take 500 years to fire, but are inevitable once activated. Maybe each planet has already stationed nukes in the other planet's solar system, so that they can be remotely activated on short notice (part of the colonization package? A box labeled "national security."). Come on, it's worldbuilding, let's not take a "no" for an answer. ;) $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 29, 2020 at 19:20

One interesting element with regard to elections on previously unoccupied planets, especially ones that don't have Earth-like natural boundaries is that of election districts.

On Earth, election districts are based on a great deal of history (boundaries of states) and geography (rivers, lakes, mountains). When planets get settled, the gerrymandering that we have now might be reduced.

If we were to settle the Moon, the election process might be the same, but the districts that exist might be simply grids on the map, depending on how the settlements were set up. If there's ever a chance for a 'clean sheet' districting, the initial colonization might be it.

For Earth-like planets, those boundaries might exist, but could be less important, if you posit flying cars, etc., which make geography less important.

The lack (or reduction) in gerrymandering might change the percentage of incumbency in elected officials.

The FTL transmission rate and transport rate will affect how much political will the home planet will have, of course.

A fast FTL data speed (1 light year covered in 1 second) with dozens of bits/second might be enough to send basic results for coordination of resources, but if there is no FTL travel, then politically, you are even more remote than the 13 colonies/England situation in the 1700s, and control would be tenuous at best. If you have some sort of FTL for objects (1 light year in 1 week), then you get a 13 colonies/England situation.

ADDED: You updated your question so that there is no FTL for objects. For that, I can't see how a political system could have control over anything more than a few light years at all, at best. If FTL was near-lightspeed, and with energy costs for travel that weren't outrageous, you might be able to have colonies with tenuous relations, but technological developments on colonies and Earth might outstrip the weapons that your US Space Force would bring to the colonies. Who would sign up for a tour of duty where a) you wouldn't age during your journey as compared with the family back home or b) you would be away at a minimum of 8+ years in Earth years (assuming your colony is at the nearest star 4+ light years away).

A month long gap for reinforcements would be extreme; years long would be a stretch.

  • $\begingroup$ Voting on the national level happened before electronic means, so the "order of dozens of bits per second" is pretty quick compared to the pony express days. Having districts is a great way to reduce the data quantity, so the results could still be reported in minutes (or less), rather than the days/weeks it originally took. $\endgroup$ Commented Dec 14, 2017 at 18:50

They're not states they're colonies

Your scenario is very close to that of the European powers colonising as much of the world as possible some 500-600ish years ago. The challenges are very similar as well, cargo and people move slowly between motherland and the colonies while information though limited can travel a lot faster. This is a space-age version of those exact same problems.

The remote settlements won't be states, it's simply not practical, again look to European colonial history. The remote settlements will be "territories", "possessions" or colonies. (I'm not sure if there's any legal distinction between the different terms, be interested to find out). They may have some small influence on the politics of the motherland but they won't have equal status. The British electoral system is a good model for how things would almost certainly run.

In that model, colonial citizens have the right to vote in the motherlands elections if they were resident in the motherland at the time the election was called. MOtherland citizens have the right to vote no matter where they're living at the time.

An excellent example of how your scenarios would play out is the Coyote Series

Written by Allen Steele, the original trilogy was a great read for me back-in-the-day. The first spin off novel, Spindrift, didn't have the same sort of epic vista as the first three so I left the series after that, but the first three are right up your alley.

Communications If your FTL data channel is limited to, say, 24bps, what's to stop them opening up multiple channels ? If that's allowable then the obvious next step would be to bond hundreds of the 24bps channels into virtual channels with more bandwidth.

Even restricted to 24bps the data link would be useful. Allowing for error correction and assuming its duplex, you'd get about 16bps data, or two ASCII characters per second. 120 characters per minute or about 15 words. Which isn't great, in the 19th century, human telegraph operators managed an average of 30 words pm and ticker-tape machines went up to about 70s word pm.

In reality your throughput would be much better. It would be a digital not an analogue connection, it would be running 24/7 and data compression methods would help your throughput enormously. It would be limited to text only but you'd still get a respectable throughput.

But the citizens won't see it like that, their experience will be much worse. Even though the actual data is travelling quickly the amount of data is limited, so the "telegraph office" in the colonies will have to impose a queuing system, and of course private citizens personal letters back home will have a lower priority than official comms. So from the citizens POV it still takes weeks to get even a short post-card length reply from home. I imagine that would cause some resentment.


Yes, elections can occur.

One letter in UTF-8 encoding is one byte, or 8 bits of data. Assuming the minimum-possible interpretation of your transfer rate of 24 bits/second (two dozens is the minimum possible amount of dozens you can have and remain plural), your communication method can transfer three characters per second, or 180 characters per minute. To provide an example, that's one 128-character tweet per 42.7 seconds, or one 256-letter tweet per 85.3 seconds. The first 2008 Presidential debate between McCain and Obama was 16431 words, including the moderator and labels for who was speaking. It would take 5477 seconds (91 minutes, just over an hour and a half) to transmit the text copy of that debate at that minimum speed, which would allow other planets to print it in newspapers, or make it available online. So debates could certainly take place.

Since information about candidates can be transmitted, and vote totals take up even less bandwidth, then I say yes. Elections can work on an inter-planetary scale, from a purely academic perspective.

No faster-than-light travel makes having the election fairly meaningless though, for reasons that other answers have provided.


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