Voting from Antarctica

Since I was in Antarctica during the Fall 2022 election, it was important for me to figure out a way to reliably participate in elections at the federal, state, and local levels.

I haven’t moved to Antarctica; I’m simply temporarily residing in Antarctica. I’m still a San Francisco resident and therefore eligible to vote in local elections.

Municipalities generally have a mechanism for residents to participate in elections while they are abroad.

In some places, you are required to vote by mail. This means the municipality sends a ballot, you fill it out, and you return it by mail. A lot of folks here in Antarctica vote this way! Flat mail is actually surprisingly reliable. It’s generally manifested on every flight to/from Antarctica. In general, you can get a piece of flat mail to or from Antarctica in a few weeks.

San Francisco allows this option, but it also allows you to receive your ballot by email and return your ballot by fax. San Francisco’s information page is here.

San Francisco Department of Elections San Francisco allows voting by fax while abroad.

Believe it or not, we can send faxes easily from Antarctica! We have fax machines on station. There are also online services that allow sending faxes over the Internet. This means I can both reliably receive my ballot and submit my votes digitally, without relying on mail delivery.

To set this up, in San Francisco, I simply updated by voter registration record here.

It’s a bit confusing – it wasn’t clear to me whether I needed to re-register with the state, or just update my existing registration. I clarified this with the city: turns out that since I was already registered to vote, all I had to do was update my existing record.

Sure enough, after a few days’ processing, my online voter portal updated to reflect my Overseas Voter status:

Overseas Voter Confirmed

When I got to Antarctica, to my surprise, I already had an updated voter registration card waiting for me! It flew down on one of the Winfly flights; it might have even been my flight. Even though I’m getting the ballot via email, they still send a physical confirmation card. This was my first piece of mail I received in Antarctica.

Address Confirmation CardReceiving voter confirmation mail at -28F! What fun!

A few weeks later, I even started receiving political flyers in the mail. I guess you can just buy a voter registration database for this purpose, and it includes temporary addresses.

I’ll admit that it’s very jarring to get this kind of thing in the mail down here. Life back home goes on, and I suppose election cycles are no exception.

But I’m at a remote outpost at the edge of the world. I trudged up to the post office, hoping for a friendly postcard from a loved one back home, and instead I got a few “Vote NO on Prop X” flyers. It’s a bit of whiplash!

The logistics chain to get these flyers down here is a modern (and heavily, heavily subsidized) miracle. I felt guilty when I picked these up from the post office, snapped a photo, and immediately recycled them. They’ll go through an elaborate return process through the McMurdo waste department, and they’ll end up recycled back in the US. 16,000 miles of roundtrip travel for a political flyer.

Political FlyersPolitical flyers in Antarctica. Sigh.

Because of a combination of slow Internet, ample distractions, and social/geographic isolation from local politics, I’m woefully uninformed about what’s on the ballot this season. I’m lucky to have trusted and ideologically-aligned folks back home who I could count on for advice when it came time to actually vote.

About 45 days before election day, I got an email from the San Francisco Department of Elections with a link to obtain my ballot:

Ballot Available Email

I confirmed my eligibility in order to proceed. It seems as though anyone can obtain an online ballot, but only folks residing abroad have the option to actually submit it by fax.

Confirm Eligibility

The ballot itself looks just like a normal ballot, but Online(™). Your selections aren’t transmitted over the Internet; it’s just an online copy of the ballot that you can mark digitally and then submit later via fax.

Ballot An online ballot from the City of San Francisco.

After you’re done, you download your selections as a PDF. The PDF contains a printed record of your selections, but it is, itself, not an official ballot.

PDF Selections

To submit my votes by fax, I also had to submit an Oath, verifying that the selections on the PDF represent my desired selections for the election.

Oath

I submitted both the PDF record and the Oath together on a single fax transmission.

I used my existing online faxing solution, so it was a reliable US-to-US fax transaction. We can send faxes directly from station, but for something as fragile as faxing, I opted to originate it from the US.

Fax Confirmation Successful vote-by-fax transmission!

Someone at the Department of Elections verified my eligibility to vote by fax, using the information contained in my file and on the Oath. They then took the contents of the faxed PDF to produce an official ballot on my behalf.

After a few days, my online voter portal was updated to show that my vote was received and will be counted.

Vote Counted Confirmation that my vote was received and will be counted!

And that’s it! Civic engagement, from the bottom of the world.

I hope this is helpful for folks heading to Antarctica or other remote locations!