# How do US citizens vote in space?

Astronaut Kate Rubins tweeted that she has voted while being on the ISS:

How does that work? Did she have some paperwork with her that she can send down to earth with a spacecraft soon? The expedition 63 crew departed a day earlier, so maybe she actually voted earlier and crew 63 have taken the papers with them?

(I'm not sure whether this question is a better fit for Politics.SE or Space.SE; feel free to migrate if Politics.SE would be the better place.)

• While it's nice that they allow this, does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? There are never more than a handful of Americans on the ISS. We like to say "Every vote matters", but they don't really. I think most people would gladly give up voting to go to space. – Barmar Oct 23 '20 at 15:45
• @samcarter_is_at_texnique.fr Thanks for confirming my point. There was only one vote in Texas (over 70 years ago), and the margin was 97. So a half dozen votes would not have made a difference, especially if they were split. – Barmar Oct 23 '20 at 16:04
• @Barmar It matters in a symbolic sense. When people on the ground see that even astronauts in space are doing their civic duty despite the technical hurdles, it gives us perspective on how petty our excuses for not voting might be. These people voted from orbit, now don't you feel bad that you didn't want to go to the polls because it was raining? So if showing that even astronauts in space are casting ballots inspires more people on the ground to do the same, then it certainly does matter. – Darrel Hoffman Oct 23 '20 at 16:40
• @DarrelHoffman Very good point. It might work even better than the "get out the vote" postcards. Although the "vote naked" PSAs might be a close second. – Barmar Oct 23 '20 at 16:43
• @Barmar it may matter in local elections, which are often on the same ballot as the national election. The last mayoral election in my town was decided by ~20 votes. – Ryan_L Oct 23 '20 at 22:18

The relevant law is Texas Administrative Code Rule §81.35 "Voting from Outer Space" and who's going to vote against that? It is a very small modification of Texas early voting law.

(a) A person who meets the eligibility requirements of a voter under the Texas Election Code, Chapter 101, but who will be on a space flight during the early-voting period and on election day, may vote under this chapter. In order to vote by this method, the voter must apply by a Federal Postcard Application ("FPCA") and meet the requisite deadlines under state law. The FPCA may be submitted by fax or other electronic means.

(b) 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 Secretary of State shall approve, deny, or request further information from NASA on the proposed method of transmission.

(c) Proposed changes to an approved ballot transmission method shall be submitted in writing to the Secretary of State for approval.

The astronaut applies to vote in space using the same Federal Postcard Application used by citizens residing outside the US. The exact voting procedure is worked out by NASA and the Texas Secretary of State.

According to NPR, the procedure is...

Voting from the space station is similar to voting absentee from anyplace on the planet — except instead of relying on the U.S. Postal Service to deliver the ballot, Rubins will get hers forwarded electronically from Mission Control in Houston.

"Using a set of unique credentials sent to each of them by e-mail, astronauts can access their ballots, cast their votes, and downlink them back down to Earth," the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum explained in 2018.

The ballot is then sent to the county clerk for tabulation.

Basically they're securely emailed their ballot. They fill it out. Securely email it back. Then someone at NASA delivers it to the county clerk.

American astronauts have been able to cast ballots from above for over two decades now, ever since a Texas lawmaker learned that astronaut John Blaha couldn't vote in the 1996 presidential race between President Bill Clinton and Bob Dole. At the time, Blaha was serving on Russia's Mir Space Station, a predecessor to the ISS.

[Ed Allison, director of Lawrence County’s Department of Voter Services] then pulled his team together, consisting of Rick DiBello, the county’s Director of IT who would handle setting up a secure email and password, and Tim Germani, the man responsible for creating the ballots.

DiBello created a fillable PDF file that when Morgan received it all he would have to do is click the circle next to the name of the person for whom he wanted to cast a vote.

Allison said the ballot was shipped in two separate emails — one containing the ballot and one with a secured password that only Morgan would possess in order for him to cast his vote.

“Astronaut Morgan got the ballot, voted it and sent it back. That part was seamless. No problem at all.”

“It is a secret ballot,” Allison said. “No one will ever know what it was. Because it looks different from the rest - you would know it is a fillable ballot. It is going to go in the box and it is going to be destroyed just like all the other ones will be destroyed in time in order to entitle him to that secrecy he is entitled to.

• Very nice, thorough and well-sourced answer! I've just asked What US states allow voting from space? – uhoh Oct 24 '20 at 3:29
• Interesting, I would've thought it nigh impossible to get this done without violating the secrecy of the ballot. But what they basically do is VPN into a voting-capable computer, correct? – Mast Oct 24 '20 at 15:58
• @Mast: no, like it says, they just email it to someone on the ground who takes it to the country clerk, presumably by printing it out. We can hope the email uses pgp or something similar. – Nick Matteo Oct 24 '20 at 16:34
• @NickMatteo So there is no secrecy, there is someone involved who knows how the respective astronaut has voted? - Isn't voting in secret an integral part in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? – I'm with Monica Oct 26 '20 at 12:17
• @I'mwithMonica This is a very special case. I think it's ok if they consent for a designated person to handle their ballot. But they don't give details about the exact procedure. This article about Astronaut Drew Morgan voting for Lawrence County from the ISS says the ballot was kept secret. – Schwern Oct 26 '20 at 18:01

As explained in video description of https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Emsf_udovU the voting is done electronically

Most U.S. astronauts live in Houston. Texas law allows them to vote from space using a secure electronic ballot. Mission Control forwards the ballot to the space station and relays the completed ballot back to the county clerk.

• A couple of references you might be able to use.1 & 2 – Fred Oct 23 '20 at 9:08
• @MartinSchröder The ISS has an internet connection since 2010: universetoday.com/51782/iss-now-has-live-access-to-the-internet – Tyzoid Oct 23 '20 at 14:52
• More background on the history of the space voting law: theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/11/voting-from-space/… Until the mid-1990s, missions were short enough that voting was a non-issue. In 1996, an astronaut missed the chance to vote in 1996. Texas passed a law in 1997 to fix the problem, and the American voted in space in 1997. It's definitely distinct from the absentee voting laws that apply on Earth. – Jetpack Oct 23 '20 at 15:59
• @MartinSchröder Not only that, they have a VOIP telephone, so they can make phone calls from the ISS. UK astronaut Tim Peake famously dialed a wrong number and created some confusion: bbc.com/news/uk-35178210 – Tristan Oct 23 '20 at 16:25
• Re Most U.S. astronauts live in Houston. While NASA does not publish the home addresses of its personnel, I strongly suspect that most U.S. astronauts live in the tiny towns of Nassau Bay, El Lago, Taylor Lake Village, and Seabrook. None of these has been annexed (or can be annexed) by Houston. Others live in Friendswood or League City, which once again are not and can not be a part of Houston. Some do live in Clear Lake City, which was annexed by Houston. – David Hammen Oct 23 '20 at 17:29