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She's Voting From Space, So Y'all Have No Excuse

U.S. astronaut Kate Rubins smiles on as her space suit is tested at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome on July 7, 2016. She told the AP on Friday that she would be casting her vote from space for this November’s presidential election.
U.S. astronaut Kate Rubins smiles on as her space suit is tested at the Russian-leased Baikonur cosmodrome on July 7, 2016. She told the AP on Friday that she would be casting her vote from space for this November’s presidential election.
Photo: Vasily Maximov (Getty Images)

For this November’s presidential election, NASA astronaut Kate Rubins plans to cast her ballot from the International Space Station, 200 miles above Earth, effectively obliterating every excuse in the book for why us earthbound voters can’t make it out to the polls.

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“If we can do it from space, then I believe folks can do it from the ground too,” Rubins said in an interview with the Associated Press on Friday.

“Is that even legal?”, I hear you ask. And yes, it is! But only if you’re from Texas.

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Given that most U.S. astronauts live in Houston (the home of NASA’s Mission Control Center), the state of Texas passed a law in 1997 establishing a procedure for them to vote from space should the occasion arise. It basically works like an extra-terrestrial mail-in ballot: Mission Control sends the space station an encrypted email containing the ballot, which is relayed back down to the county clerk’s office after the astronaut fills it out. Rubins and her fellow astronaut Shane Kimbrough cast their votes from the ISS for the 2016 presidential election as well.

“I think a lot of astronauts do this,” Rubins told the outlet. “It’s critical to participate in our democracy. We consider it an honor to be able to vote from space.”

Rubins is currently working with cosmonauts Sergey Ryzhikov and Sergey Kud-Sverchkov in Star City, Russia to prepare for a launch in mid-October. After catching a ride on the Russian space vehicle Soyuz (no SpaceX rocket this time around), they’ll stay aboard the ISS for six months. Rubins, who in 2016 became the first person to sequence DNA in space, plans to “work on a cardiovascular experiment that builds on an investigation she completed during her first space mission,” according to NASA. While aboard the ISS, she and her crewmates will also celebrate the 20th anniversary of continuous human presence on the space station.

So if people are finding ways to vote when they’re not even on the planet, you can figure out a way to get to the polls this November. That’s not to ignore America’s long and sordid history of systemic voter suppression concerning people of color, and especially Black voters, of course. But even as we acknowledge that injustice, we can champion mail-in ballots, early voting, and the various other methods that state legislatures provide so that you can make your voice heard this November if, like me, you’re unable or unwilling to set foot in a polling place.

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Given the ongoing pandemic, me and my compromised immune system aren’t taking any chances with crowds this November, so I mailed in my ballot today. It was my first time not voting in person, and honestly it was pretty easy! You can check out how to do the same in your state too using this handy dandy guide.

Gizmodo weekend editor. Freelance games reporter. Full-time disaster bi.

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DISCUSSION

This article really understates the barriers some people experience in voting. To pick just a few examples, Florida essentially has a poll tax disenfranchising people with a criminal record. Even with mail in ballots, black votes are tossed out at a higher rate than white votes. Some states are actively trying to adopt measures to interfere with voting. People with disabilities often experience structural barriers to voting access.

It’s a shame this article chose to take a victim blaming approach instead of framing the issues as “If Texas went to all this effort to make one vote count, maybe other jurisdictions can go to greater lengths to make voting accessible to everyone.” Because unlike the astronaut in this story, many don’t have systems set up specifically to account for their circumstances. It’s good that they did for the astronaut, but also, that are really good reasons some people can’t/don’t vote and to pretend otherwise unfortunately comes off as a bit tone deaf and privileged.