Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Technology makes it possible to vote from space

Sunita Williams at the International Space Station. Source:
Last November 6th, Sunita Williams cast her ballot for the US presidential elections, just like millions of other Americans did. There is a small detail about this apparently mundane fact, though: she had the option to do it in outer space.

Sunita Williams is an astronaut on board the International Space Station. While she and her colleague Kevin Ford chose to vote from Russia before heading to space, other astronauts don’t have to fret over not being on Earth to cast their vote. This is thanks to a 1997 bill, which has made it possible for astronauts to use technology to exert their right to suffrage even when they are away in orbit. This measure has benefited several people already, and the effectiveness of its implementation points out at the need to modernize voting in order to make it easier for everyone to vote, no matter how geography or mobility affects them. There has been some advancement toward this goal with the implementation of the absentee ballot, but it’s not enough yet.

Absentee ballots have been the answer to citizens’ potential mobility problems. Sometimes it’s impossible for a citizen to reach his or her appointed polling station due to health problems or to being abroad. In order not to lose this potential voter’s ballot and increase voter turnout altogether, various nations have enabled different models of absentee ballots: proxy voting (someone is appointed to vote in the elector’s stead), postal voting, and e-voting.

Voting in outer space is carried out through a form of e-voting involving secure e-mail connections. Mission control at the Johnson Space Center in Houston beams up a digital version of the ballot card for the astronauts to fill up, and they beam it back to Earth via secure e-mail. It wouldn’t be crazy to think that it won’t be long before voting technology is adapted to space stations in order for astronauts to vote exactly the way they would on our planet. 

With e-voting, the right to suffrage reaches out to citizens in such a way that even those in outer space can vote. If the most extreme scenario for accessibility is already possible, why aren’t we making it easier for people in less remote areas to vote? They, too, have the need for voting technology in order to make their voice heard.