By: Jess Barfield
The election is less than two weeks away, heated debates are occurring, and much discussion revolves around whether every vote will be accurately tallied and counted. But while candidates of both parties traverse the country looking for votes, there’s one place that Trump or Biden will not be campaigning – the International Space Station. But every vote needs to count- even the votes of astronauts in outer space. Based on a bill passed by Texas legislatures in 1997, a technical voting procedure was put in place for astronauts so they now have the ability to vote from space!
In fact, NASA has coined the motto “Vote While You Float” to show their support for the integrity of the election process. But just how does one vote while in space? Well, like any form of absentee voting, it starts with a Federal Postcard Application or FPCA. This is the same form that military personnel uses to vote while serving overseas. By completing the form ahead of their launch, space station crew members indicate their desire to participate in an election while in space.
But it doesn’t end with filling out a postcard, more is involved- after all, the vote is coming from an orbiting space station. Once the FCPA is approved, the county clerk who manages elections in the astronaut’s home county will send a test ballot to NASA’s Johnson Space Center where it is tested to see if it can be filled out and sent back to the county clerk. If the test is successful, a secure electronic ballot generated by the County Clerk’s office is then uplinked by Johnson’s Mission Control Center to the voting crew member. An e-mail with crew member-specific credentials is then sent from the County Clerk to the astronaut which allows the crew member to access the secure ballot. The astronaut will then cast their vote, and the completed ballot will be downlinked and delivered back to the County Clerk’s Office by e-mail to be officially recorded.
At the Adam Brown Social Media Command Center, we are using software tools that allow us to follow sentiment and discussion related to the upcoming presidential election. On that point, we created the following 7-day word cloud to see if there was any discussion on voting from space. Surprisingly, we not only see the use of words which connect voting to astronauts, but also “Chinese” indicating China’s space program is on peoples’ mind, and we see other words related to current senate elections. Voting from space- currently, not many votes to compete for, but who knows what the future may bring!