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Overseers Election Update: Voting Postponed

3.31.20

Photograph of Harvard’s Loeb House

Loeb House, where the University's governing boards meet
Photograph by Harvard Magazine/JC


Loeb House, where the University's governing boards meet
Photograph by Harvard Magazine/JC

Updated March 31, 2020This news announcement updates yesterday’s post about the election and various endorsements of candidates, from both the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) nominating committee slates and the Overseer petition candidates campaigning on the Harvard Forward platform.

The University’s governing boards—the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers—announced this afternoon that the annual balloting for Overseers and Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) elected directors, scheduled to begin online tomorrow, has been postponed until early to mid July. (Harvard Magazine’s coverage is available and linked here; the University website, elections.harvard.edu, provides detailed information on the election and the candidates.)

The decision was made, the University announced, because of severe logistical problems imposed by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly half of the voters in last year’s election cast paper ballots: forms received through the mail and and then mailed back for tabulation. But with social-distancing and mobility-restricting orders in place:

thousands of alumni who use office and professional addresses for University mailings will not have ready, timely access to their ballots; and

thousands of alumni—particularly international alumni resident in Europe and elsewhere—do not now have regular, reliable mail service at all.

Under those circumstances, conducting the balloting as originally scheduled, from April 1 through May 19, would effectively disenfranchise many interested alumni.

Accordingly, the entire voting period will be moved to the summer; will be of the typical six- to seven-week duration; and should result in a completed process in time for the newly elected Overseers and HAA directors to join those respective bodies for their first regularly scheduled meetings this fall.

The text of the message from the President of the Board of Overseers and the Senior Fellow of the Corporation follows:

Dear Fellow Alumni and Alumnae,

On behalf of Harvard’s governing boards, we extend our best wishes for your health and safety during this difficult time. And we are deeply grateful to the many people throughout the worldwide Harvard alumni community who, near and far, are contributing to the battle against COVID-19.

The widening impact of the pandemic across the nation and around the world has created significant uncertainty about whether the 2020 Harvard elections for members of the Harvard Board of Overseers and elected directors of the Harvard Alumni Association can be completed as planned and on schedule. Rather than launch the elections right now in the face of such uncertainty, the governing boards decided at their meetings over the past two days to shift the start of the elections from April 1 until early to mid-July. By then, we hope the disruption being experienced by people in communities worldwide will have at least begun to abate. While this was a difficult decision to reach, we hope it will better assure that the elections can proceed in a manner that is fair to all candidates and that reliably enables all eligible voters the opportunity both to cast their ballots and to be confident their votes will be received and counted. Even with the introduction of an online voting option last year, 43 percent of voters mailed in paper ballots. At a moment when mail systems may not function in predictable ways, and when many voters who receive Harvard correspondence at their business addresses have been forced by circumstance to remain at home, deferring the start date seems the best path to assuring a sound election.

On the revised schedule, we expect that the elections will take place over the typical span of six to seven weeks, starting in early to mid-July. This should allow the candidates who are elected to take up their roles in time for the first regularly scheduled meetings of the Board of Overseers and the HAA directors this fall. We have been in touch with the candidates for both elections to make them aware of the schedule change and to thank them for their understanding.

More information about the elections will be coming your way this summer as the start date approaches. We do hope you will vote when the time comes. Even more, we hope you and your loved ones stay safe and well.

Sincerely,

Michael Brown AB ’83, JD ’88
President
Harvard University Board of Overseers

William F. Lee AB ’72
Senior Fellow
Harvard Corporation

The original report of March 30, 2020, appears in full below. 

With world attention understandably focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, and U.S. political attention focused to a varying extent on the November presidential and congressional elections, the University’s spring balloting for members of the Board of Overseers and Harvard Alumni Association (HAA) elected directors begins April l, very much out of the news headlines. Nonetheless, the process continues, with the Harvard Forward campaign’s successful nomination by petition of a slate of Overseer candidates—advocating a platform of divestment to redress climate change, changes in investment policy more generally, and governance reform—drawing attention to this spring’s election.

As reported, there are eight HAA-nominated candidates for Overseer, and five Harvard Forward candidates; all 13 will appear on the ballot in the order shown here—with five to be elected. In addition, there are nine nominees for HAA elected director—with six to be elected. Biographies of all the candidates for both offices appear at the elections.harvard.edu website.

The Coalition for a Diverse Harvard, which has endorsed candidates in recent years, announced last week that it is backing these Overseer nominees this year: the HAA-nominated Raphael William Bostic, David H. Eun, Diego A. Rodriguez, and Tracy K. Smith; and the Harvard Forward-nominated Thea Sebastian. It is also backing the following for HAA elected director: Santiago Creuheras, Kelsey Trey Leonard, Michael D. Lewis, Mallika J. Marshall, Joyce Y. Zhang, and Vanessa Zoltan. (Several of the endorsed candidates are members of the coalition itself.)

The coalition, in turn, reports that its endorsements are also backed by First Generation Harvard Alumni, Harvard Arab Alumni Association, Harvard Asian American Alumni Alliance, Harvard Black Alumni Society, Harvard Gender & Sexuality Caucus, Harvard Latino Alumni Alliance, Harvard Progressive Jewish Alumni, Harvard South Asian Alumni Alliance, Harvard Tamil Sangam Alumni, Harvard Women of Color, and Native American Alumni of Harvard University.

Having secured that possibly influential coalition endorsement for one of its candidates, Harvard Forward has now extended its own reach, in turn endorsing six of the aspirants to serve as HAA elected directors: Santiago Creuheras, Kelsey Trey Leonard, Michael D. Lewis, Benjamin D. Wei, Joyce Y. Zhang, and Vanessa Zoltan.

In its March 30 news release, Harvard Forward said that each of these candidates supports its platform, and has indicated “willingness to advocate for the enactment of the campaign’s…policy proposals if elected.” It notes further: “While the HAA Elected Directors have no direct say over the use of the Harvard endowment, the Harvard Forward platform outlines ways to engage alumni in service of establishing Harvard as a leader in the fight against climate change, such as through the creation of a Shared Interest Group (SIG) around Sustainability, Climate, and the Environment. Furthermore, the campaign’s plan for ‘Recent Alumni Overseers’ explicitly calls for HAA involvement, meaning that HAA Elected Directors could play an important role in the enactment of the proposal.”

Voting—online or by paper ballots—is open from April 1 through 5:00 p.m. on May 19. Given the pandemic-caused postponement of Commencement, results will likely be reported sometime during the final week of May, rather than with the customary announcement during the afternoon exercises of Commencement day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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