NASA astronaut Kate Rubins officially voted earlier this week from a makeshift booth aboard the International Space Station. As cool as it might’ve been for her to have had her ballot zoomed back to Earth by a tiny rocket, it was actually much more boring than that…it basically got sent to her county clerk digitally as a PDF.
According to NASA, you can vote from space! It begins the same way as voting anywhere else here on Earth. Astronauts are like military members & other American citizens living overseas: they have to first submit a Federal Postcard Application to request an absentee ballot. Once they’re approved, astronauts can blast off knowing their ballot will be right behind them.
The astronaut’s county clerk completes a practice round with folks at the Johnson Space Center in Houston before starting the actual voting process. The astronaut receives 2 electronic documents: a password-protected ballot sent by mission control, and a password email sent by their county clerk. The astronaut then fills out their ballot & “downlinks” it back to Space Center attendants via satellite signal, who forward it to the county clerk. Since a password’s required to open the ballot, that clerk is the only other person who sees the astronaut’s votes. They then copy them onto a regular paper ballot & submit them with all the rest.
When Americans first started visiting space more than 50 years, those early trips weren’t really long enough to have to worry about voting while in orbit. But, in 1996, astronaut John Blaha missed out on voting in the general election because his spaceflight to Russia’s Mir space station happened in September, before absentee voters received their ballots. He didn’t return until January 1997, so he wasn’t able to vote. So, NASA officials collaborated with Texas government leaders to pass a law allowing astronauts to cast their ballots from space. In the Fall of 1997, David Wolf became the first astronaut to submit his vote from a space station. The law is specific to Texas, since most active astronauts reside there, but NASA says the process can be done from other states if need be.
We have it a lot easier, so there’s no excuse not to get out & vote on Tuesday!
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