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UC Candidates Say Empty Website and Understaffed Election Commission Spur ‘Goose Chase’ for Information

UC Website
The Undergraduate Council's website.

Candidates girding for Undergraduate Council presidential elections often prep by scanning UC records and bylaws online and by sending questions to the Council’s election commission, an independent body tasked with overseeing the process.

But, over the past month, some UC presidential and vice presidential hopefuls say they have been unable to use either resource. The Council’s website remained largely devoid of content from September until Thursday, when The Crimson contacted UC Vice President Nicholas D. Boucher ’19 for comment about the site, prompting him to update the page.

The commission, meanwhile, has operated since the spring with only one member instead of the five mandated by the Council’s constitution. At its Sunday meeting last week, the UC added four new members to the committee.

Jubin Gorji ’21, chair of the election commission, said as the commission’s sole staffer, he struggled to respond to the flood of emails candidates began sending as presidential election season hit. Voting for this year’s election will take place from Nov. 12 to Nov. 15.

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Gorji said he sometimes saw as many as 20 to 30 emails a day. He admitted his response time was often longer than he would have liked.

Multiple candidates said limited access to the Council’s website and its election commission meant they were unable to quickly obtain vital guidance such as election rules. The candidates declined to speak on the record because, per Council policy, they are not allowed to talk to the press before campaign season officially kicks off on Nov. 7.

One candidate called the struggle to find necessary information a “goose chase.”

That chase may soon end. With the commission now fully staffed, Gorji said the body will be able to respond to inquiries “within 24 hours” going forward.

And, around midday Thursday, things began looking up on the website front too.

Since September, the site consisted of two pages filled with two pictures of Council members and a few links to information about finance committee grants. It also boasted a notice declaring it was “undergoing maintenance.”

The webpage did not list Council records, its constitution, or information about UC sub-committees.

After being contacted by The Crimson Thursday, Boucher and his team began to populate the site.

“I had my team publish more content this morning and the site is back to the content it had before the server changes,” Boucher wrote in a text message, referring to a one-day server update Harvard University Information Technology performed on the UC website in mid-September.

Boucher disputed the notion that the site was ever non-functional.

“It’s not down, it’s under maintenance — the basic information such as grants and a variety of other directly linked pages are there,” he wrote. “One of our campaign promises was to deliver a better website, and doing so required rebuilding everything that was there which has been a process underway over the last few weeks.”

Boucher and UC President Catherine L. Zhang ’19 campaigned on a platform in Fall 2017 that promised students a revamped website. The duo at the time said a better site would allow the UC to increase student awareness of Harvard resources.

The Council launched the updated website in May 2018, but it remained under renovation throughout much of the spring and virtually all of the summer.

Boucher wrote the website remained down throughout June, July, and August so its “underlying server” could be upgraded with “cybersecurity enhancements.”

— Staff writer Jonah S. Berger can be reached at jonah.berger@thecrimson.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonahberger98.

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