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Here’s how astronauts vote from space

Published Sep 29th, 2020 11:16PM EDT
voting from space
Image: NASA

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  • NASA has a system in place so that astronauts who are in space can still cast their votes in elections.
  • The process is relatively straightforward, with a unique ballot sent electronically that only the voter can access.
  • The ballot is then beamed back to Earth and tallied just like every other vote.

This year’s presidential election is filled with drama. That’s not necessarily out of the ordinary, but with the pandemic raging and so much political unrest, the voting process has taken on a whole new level of importance. Lots of people will be using mail-in ballots this year, and while some have criticized how safe that is, just imagine if you had a cast your vote from space.

That’s exactly what NASA astronaut Kate Rubins will have to do, as she’ll be aboard the International Space Station during the time when she would normally be voting. Still eager to cast a ballot, NASA has a system in place so that Rubins (or other astronauts who are in space during election proceedings) can cast a secure vote without even being on Earth.

As CNN reports, the protocols that make it possible for an astronaut to vote from space have been in place since the late 90s, and it’s actually a fairly simple procedure.

Here’s how NASA describes the process:

A secure electronic ballot, generated by the Harris and Brazoria County Clerk’s office, is uplinked by NASA’s Johnson Space Center Mission Control Center. An e-mail with crew member-specific credentials is sent from the County Clerk to the crew member. These credentials allow the crew member to access the secure ballot.

The astronauts will cast their votes and a secure completed ballot is downlinked and delivered back to the County Clerk’s Office by e-mail to be officially recorded.

The electronic ballot is no different than a paper or electronic ballot one might see at a local voting station, at least in terms of the selection process. The astronaut simply chooses their candidate and then beams the ballot back down to Earth over a secure connection. The email — which, since it’s NASA, we’ll assume is encrypted — is received by the county clerk and tallied just like any other vote.

If this doesn’t tell you exactly how important voting is, nothing will. I mean, NASA set up an entire system so that a few astronauts could cast their votes from space. Did those votes, on their own, swing an election one way or another? No, but they were still just as important as every other vote. Your vote matters, so if you’re not registered, get registered right now (seriously, just go here and do it, it takes like 10 seconds), and then cast your vote either before or on election day, which is Tuesday, November 3rd.