View of Langdell Library at Harvard University.

Langdell Library at Harvard University.

Rose Lincoln/Harvard Staff Photographer

Campus & Community

Harvard board elections moved to summer in response to virus disruptions

3 min read

Governing boards delay 2020 Overseer and Alumni Association elected director elections until July

In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, Harvard University’s governing boards announced today that they would delay the start of voting in elections for the Harvard Board of Overseers and for Elected Directors of the Harvard Alumni Association (HAA). The elections, originally scheduled to start Wednesday, are now expected to begin in early to mid-July.

The decision comes amid the global public health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus and the resulting uncertainty and disruption. This includes concerns that restrictions on movement in countries around the world and extensive work-from-home protocols in place in the United States and elsewhere would make it challenging for thousands of alumni who vote by postal ballot to cast their votes by the intended closing date of May 19.

Voting for Overseers and HAA Elected Directors is now expected to open in early to mid-July and to extend for the usual six to seven weeks. On the revised schedule, the candidates who are elected this summer should still be able to assume their roles in time for the first scheduled meetings of the Board of Overseers and the HAA Board of Directors in the fall.

“This was a difficult decision to make, arrived at only after members of the boards extensively discussed the unprecedented circumstances caused by the coronavirus,” said Michael Brown, president of the Board of Overseers. “Our overriding goal is to allow for a sound and fair election and to do what we can so that every eligible voter has the opportunity to vote.”

“We want to ensure the fairness and integrity of the elections in these extraordinary and challenging times,” said William F. Lee, senior fellow of the Harvard Corporation. “We hope this change in schedule will help ensure that voters who want to vote can actually do so, whether by paper ballot or online, and that those who do vote can be confident their votes will be counted. We have been in touch with the candidates to make them aware of the change and to thank them for their understanding.”

In a message to alumni, Brown and Lee noted that an online voting option was introduced in 2019, but 43 percent of voters still chose to return their paper ballots by mail. The University does not have email addresses for all alumni, and tens of thousands of alumni use their business addresses for mail from Harvard. Many eligible voters now face work-from-home mandates, and mailing systems, businesses, and people’s daily lives face the prospect of further near-term disruption.

“In extraordinary circumstances like these, with considerable uncertainty about what might happen if we launch the election immediately, rescheduling the start of the election, while still trying to have the elected candidates in place by the regular fall meetings, has seemed to us the wiser course,” said Brown. “Much as all of us wish we could proceed with business as usual, these are anything but usual times.”

In their message to alumni, Brown and Lee said that further information about the election would be sent closer to the rescheduled start of the elections. Background on the elections and the candidates can be found here.