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Wednesday, October 28, 2020

US Election 2020: How do astronauts cast their votes from space?

Aboard the ISS, missions can last for over six months, and American astronauts have been able to cast their vote via a special absentee ballot system.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi | Updated: October 2, 2020 2:04:48 pm
NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, who will be aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on the day of the US presidential elections, will cast her vote from space. (Photo: (NASA/GCTC/Andrey Shelepin via AP)

NASA astronaut Kate Rubins, who will be aboard the International Space Station (ISS) on the day of the US presidential elections, will cast her vote from space, the Associated Press reported. The ISS is located over 200 miles away and orbits the Earth at 17,000 miles an hour. Aboard the ISS, missions can last for over six months, and American astronauts have been able to cast their vote via a special absentee ballot system.

How is this possible?

In 1997, a bill passed by the Texas legislatures established the technical voting process for astronauts, all of whom live in Texas and gave them the ability to vote remotely from space. In the 2016 presidential elections, astronauts Edward Michael Fincke and Greg Chamitoff, who were living and working onboard the ISS, cast their vote by accessing a secure secret ballot.

In 1997, NASA’s David Wolf became the first astronaut to cast his using this provision while he was aboard the Russian Space Station Mir. (Here’s our US Election 2020 Calendar)

How does the system work?

The rule states that a person who is on a space flight during the early-voting period or on election day can vote by this method provided they apply by a Federal Postcard Application (FPCA). “The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”) shall submit in writing to the Secretary of State a method of transmitting and receiving a secret ballot for persons on a space flight during an election period,” the rule states.

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According to a blog post published by NASA, the voting process starts a year before launch, when the astronauts are supposed to select which elections (local/state/federal) they want to take part in while in space. Following this, six months before the elections, astronauts are provided with a standard form called the, “Voter Registration and Absentee Ballot Request – Federal Post Card Application”.

A day before US Election Day, an encrypted electronic ballot is uplinked to the astronauts, who then use a set of unique credentials that are sent to them individually by e-mail. In this way, they can access their ballots and after casting their vote, they downlink them back to Earth to the county clerk’s office.

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