US Elections 2020: How Astronauts Vote While in Space

US Presidential Elections 2020: NASA’s space traveller Kate Rubins, who will be on board the International Space Station (ISS) upon the declaration of the US presidential election results, will cast her vote from space. The ISS is situated more than 200 miles away and circles the Earth at 17,000 miles an hour.

Onboard the ISS, missions can be kept going for more than half a year, getting in the way of in-person or online (or rather on-planet in this case) voting. As a result, the American space explorers have been given the option to choose their candidate of choice by utilizing an extraordinary non-attendant voting form framework.

How did this system of election begin?

In 1997, a bill passed by the Texas governing bodies set up a specialized democratic cycle for space travellers. Everyone who lived in Texas was given a right to cast a ballot distantly from space. In the 2016 presidential elections, space explorers Edward Michael Fincke and Greg Chamitoff, living and working locally at the ISS, had cast their vote by getting a safe mystery polling form.

US Presidential Elections
Image Credits: NASA

In the same year, NASA’s David Wolf was the first astronaut who utilized this arrangement to cast his vote in the presidential elections while being on board the Russian Space Station Mir. However, the cycle hasn’t changed a lot; now, polling forms are sent to the International Space Station instead, when space explorers’ missions last for around half a year.

What is the procedure for this type of election?

Here’s how the procedure and the law come into practice before the Election Day: Before the mission, an astronaut identifies which elections they will be in orbit for. A day before the US Election Day, an encrypted electronic ballot is uplinked to the astronauts, who use a set of unique credentials sent to them individually by e-mail. In this manner, they can access their ballots, and after casting their vote, they downlink them back to Earth to the county clerk’s office.

From left to right, NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins, along with Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
Image Credits: NASA
From left to right, NASA astronauts Shannon Walker, Victor Glover, and Mike Hopkins, along with Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.
Image Credits: NASA

“The voting process starts a year before launch when astronauts can select which elections (local/state/federal) that they want to participate in while in space,” says NASA’s officials Tumblr post. “Then, six months before the election, astronauts are provided with a standard form: the ‘Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Request — Federal Post Card Application.” 

What do the astronauts think about this particular election procedure?

“All of us are planning on voting from space. NASA works very well with different election organizations because we’re all voting in different counties. But it was easiest for us to say we were going to vote from space, so that’s what we’re going to do.” Walker has voted from orbit before, during her first trip to the International Space Station in 2010.

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins in her flight suit ahead of launch.
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins in her flight suit ahead of launch.

When astronauts get their absentee ballots, their address is listed as “low-Earth orbit,” said Kate Rubins, who wrapped up a nearly four-month stint aboard the space station late last month. She further added, “I think it’s pretty amazing. It’s very incredible that we’re able to vote from up here, and I think it’s incredibly important for us to vote in all of the elections.”

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