The good news: Humanity has expanded to the stars. Specifically, we have colonized a planet ten light years away from Earth.

The bad news: We're still stuck at sub-luminal speeds. No warp drives yet, and no FTL communication.

Rather than having an emperor type who rules over everything, I want to have a more democratic system - not a pure democracy, but more along the lines of the US system. While this election system works fine at the local level (city, planet, solar system), it sort of falls apart at the interstellar level due to time delay. Our planet ten light years out would take ten years to learn who the candidates on Earth even are, and then another ten years to get their votes counted, by which point the election is long over.

Which leads us to our issue. I want elections to be open to everyone, but the only way for that I've been able to come up with is to have people vote on who takes office in twenty years (e.g. the 2516 election is to elect those who take office in 2536), to allow for both planets to get their votes counted. The natural problem with this system is that a lot can change in twenty years - a candidate might die, the issues might have changed, the candidates' stances on the issues might have changed, society's general stance on the issues might have changed - making it a very poor way of electing a representative government.

I'd like to find a balance between the time delay and accurate representation. Totally accurate representation would involve the full 20-year time delay (and therefore isn't fair to either planet). Totally reduced time delay would involve a contingent of electors from the colony planet living permanently on Earth, which gives very inaccurate representation (and therefore isn't fair to the colony planet).

My question, then, is What kind of system could I have that allows people to be fairly represented in elections across many light years?

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    $\begingroup$ The issue is that without FTL there is no (relevant) trade or traffic or common issues between different systems, so there is no need to have neither a common government or elections. Is like asking how prehistoric australians would have send delegates to a prehistoric congress in Paris. $\endgroup$
    – SJuan76
    Commented Apr 5, 2016 at 22:54
  • $\begingroup$ Make the planets in to two countries. Simple. If governments can't be effective, don't make them that big. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 16:41

2 Answers 2


Since the purpose of government is to impose order and to allocate scarce resources, you need to have a compelling reason for this in an interstellar STL setting.

Each solar system has effectively unlimited resources, and with STL travel, there is an effective quarantine between different star systems of tens to thousands of years of time (you might be traveling close to the speed of light and arrive in a short period of ship time, but years will pass in the outside frame of reference).

Even disputes and laws are local at this scale. A trader coming to the system is essentially making a once in a lifetime trip (either for him, or for the customers), so the laws of the solar system are the ones in force. (and if the next time the trader arrives is 5000 years from now, there will be essentially an entirely different civilization in place). The trader, like traders everywhere, will adapt to the customs of where his customers are.

Other aspects of government are local as well. In the extremely unlikely event that there is an interstellar invasion, the local star system will need to deal with it by itself, since any reinforcements will be years to decades away. Of course, since using an interstellar laser light sail will need something like 70,000TW of laser energy, the local star system is quite capable of protecting itself. By the time some central government on Earth receives the message, decades will have passed, and then more time is needed to prepare an expedition, and then decades of time pass while the avenging force crosses space....

In economics, this situation is a very extreme example of F.A.Hayek's "Local Knowledge Problem" (http://www.econlib.org/library/Essays/hykKnw1.html). Since information in large systems is distributed, local actors can see information and act on it, while centralized organizations need to assemble the information, pass it up the chain, make a decision and pass the information back down the line. Now when the time lag is measured in years or decades the inefficiency of centralized systems is stretched to the breaking point.

So without some form of FTL, there is no way at all for a central interstellar government to form or function.

  • $\begingroup$ Not necessarily the answer I wanted, but you make quite a compelling argument. $\endgroup$ Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 20:14

Make it a parliamentary democracy with sliding terms of office.

  • Vote every x years, local time.
  • The delegate from Alpha Centauri serves from the time he or she arrives at the capital with a certified copy of the election results until the newly elected successor arrives.
  • There are suitable rules for impeachment, lost ships, death in office, etc. Each delegate has one or more designated successors from the same "election ticket" who travels on another ship.
  • If the arrival of a new delegate causes a change of majorities, there can be a vote of no confidence in the current government. Slightly more stable, there could be a constructive vote of no confidence -- the old government is out if the opposition can agree on a new government.
  • $\begingroup$ Did you mean "if the opposition" rather than "of the opposition"? $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Apr 6, 2016 at 14:46

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