Voting in Space

By Shelbi Etscorn

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you are probably aware that we are coming very close to US election day. This year’s election has been notable for a litany of reasons. Not just because of the candidates but also the country’s scramble to try and figure out how to handle mail-in voting along with the standard in-person voting and those who cast absentee ballots. Absentee ballots are used by US citizens who are currently living abroad such as military men and women who are currently deployed as well as their families who are of voting age. You may wonder, what is the farthest distance from the United States that an American citizen has ever cast a ballot in an election. Well the answer is quite far, out of this world even.

Early on in its creation, astronauts aboard the International Space Station generally only stayed aboard for a few days, maybe a week at a time. This made it quite easy for them to either send in a mail in ballot before launch or simply vote in person when they got home. Today, however, astronauts spend months aboard the ISS. And since no one wanted to make the argument that the brave men and women aboard the space station should forfeit their right to vote, other arrangements had to be made.

Just like with anyone else wishing to cast an absentee ballot, astronauts first fill out a Federal Postcard Application prior to their launch date. Once this application has been approved, it’s actually a pretty easy process to allow them to vote. First a test ballot is sent to NASA where it can be filled out by the astronaut and sent back to ground control, who then email it to the county clerk where the astronaut is registered to vote. If this test proves successful, a secure ballot will be sent from the county clerk, to NASA, to the astronaut, and all the way back again in a similar way. And voila! A vote has been cast from our planet’s orbit.

Astronauts have been able to vote from space since 1997. This year there will be four American astronauts aboard the space station who have already filled out the necessary applications to be able to cast their vote from space. Katie Rubins, a member of Expedition 63/64 will be aboard as well as three astronauts who will arrive from the SpaceX Crew Dragon. The latter are scheduled to launch on October 31st. For Rubins, this will actually be her second time casting her ballot from space. She was also aboard the ISS during the 2016 election and voted in the same way she will be doing this year.

If Americans who are currently whizzing around our planet are still able to find a way to vote, they’ve pretty much ruined any excuse the rest of us could possibly have for ignoring our civic duty. No matter who you vote for, get out and vote this year!