How to astronauts vote?

Democracy is invaluable, which is why even astronauts orbiting the earth are able to take part in elections.

“Vote while you float”

In 1997, three years prior people living and working on the International Space Station (ISS), American astronauts could already vote from orbit. The first American to vote from space was David Wolf, who was aboard the Russian MIR space station.

This extraordinary voting process was only made possible by Texan legislators who have established a voting procedure for astronauts. Most of them live in Texas and the Johnson Space Center, the hub of NASA’s human spaceflight program, is also in Houston.

The Early Voting Process for American Astronauts

The voting process started one year before the actual launch of cosmonauts can select in which elections they would like to participate. It is possible to vote in local, state and federal elections while they are in space.

Six months before the election, the astronauts receive the standardized Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Request. The address on the absentee ballot states low-Earth orbit – the orbit distance where satellites revolve around the earth. Texan authorities create an electronic version of the ballot, which they beam up to space. The astronaut can securely fill out the ballot, which is in turn directly send back to earth. A designated proxy voter decrypts the digital ballot and fills it out on the astronaut’s behalf.

Earth or Orbit – Voting from anywhere 

In 2004, the first NASA cosmonaut voted in a presidential election. Leroy Chiao was commanding Expedition 10 aboard the ISS at the time. He will not be the last to early vote from space. Shane Kimbrough is currently stationed on the ISS and cast his vote in the 2016 presidential election. It is just one small step for the astronaut but a big step for democracy…

With the ISS gaining access to the internet in 2010, perhaps astronauts will be able to cast their ballots online via an online voting platform. Indeed, while POLYAS does not offer space elections just yet, being able to vote from anywhere on earth has also its advantages.