In 2020, casting a ballot from space may be easier than casting one on Earth
By RUBY MELLEN | The Washington Post | Published: October 23, 2020
When U.S. astronaut Andrew Morgan began his mission to the International Space Station last year, he knew he would miss plenty of things back on Earth — including his home state of Pennsylvania's off-year elections.
Luckily for Morgan, he was able to send his ballot to Lawrence County's Department of Voter Services electronically, from the thermosphere.
"To be perfectly honest, outside of presidential years, I don't always make the effort to vote," Morgan told The Washington Post. "But I wanted to exercise that right from the International Space Station."
In 2020, space is once again in play: American Kate Rubins voted Thursday from the International Space Station in the upcoming presidential election.
Some 250 miles below, many voters are struggling to do the same.
The U.S. Postal Service has seen an inundation of mail-in ballots amid the chaos of the coronavirus pandemic. Americans abroad are worried about making sure their votes count, and officials in Pennsylvania and other states are fielding complaints from first-time and absentee voters having difficulty registering to vote or requesting a mail ballot, The Post reported.
Last-minute registrants are running into particular confusion. But astronauts prepare to vote before they leave Earth.
Morgan is not the only one to have voted from orbit. Since 1997, U.S. astronauts have been able to cast their votes from space, after John Blaha raised the issue with NASA ahead of the 1996 presidential election, during which he would be aboard the Russian Space Station Mir.
One year later, the opportunity to "vote while you float" was enshrined — a sometimes year-long process that begins on Earth before launch and culminates in the submission of an encrypted electronic ballot from space. Morgan said Lawrence County emailed him a ballot he could fill out using a special passcode known only to him.
Other countries have followed suit.
In June, Russian cosmonaut Anatoly Ivanishin cast his vote from orbit. Using an online ballot, Ivanishin weighed in on President Vladimir Putin's proposed constitutional changes, aimed at keeping him in power until 2036. Ivan Vagner, another Russian in orbit, cast his vote on the matter days later through a proxy — a voter deputized to represent him back on Earth.
The European Space Agency's Thomas Pesquet, during his tour on the International Space Station, also used a proxy, to cast his vote for the next leader of France in 2017. Though a resident of Frankfurt, Germany, at the time, the French citizen was able to have a colleague vote on his behalf.
"It's important. I think you have to vote," Pesquet told FranceInfo at the time. "You can't complain about the political results and grumble if you don't do your duty."
The other International Space Station partners, Canada and Japan, do not appear to have had astronauts vote from space, but they do not have the continuous presence aboard that Russia and the United States do.
Politics and current events were frequent topics of conversation with international counterparts in space, Morgan said. And while the planet looks very different from 250 miles up, there is no escaping the gravity of earthly politics.
"We do get a special perspective looking down at the Earth without political borders and boundaries. And we think about those things that bond us all," he said. "We think about things like this pandemic and things like climate change that affect us all equally."