Petition candidate Victor Ashe ’67 has virtually secured a spot on the ballot for the 2021 election for the Yale Corporation, the first to do so in 18 years.
Six of the 17 members of the Yale Corporation — the chief governing body of the University — are alumni fellows, or members elected directly by alumni each year. Typically, alumni choose between two Yale-backed candidates who, after being suggested by interested alumni, are vetted and chosen by the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee that branches off from the Yale Alumni Association Board of Governors. But if another interested alum wishes to vy for a seat, he or she can do so as a “petition candidate” provided they collect enough signatures from supportive alumni. This year, the signature threshold — defined at three percent of the total electorate — stood at 4,394, a bar reached by Ashe well before the deadline of Oct. 1 according to his email to supporters on Tuesday.
“I am grateful to everyone who has stepped forward to lend a hand to our effort,” Ashe wrote. “Over the past few months, I have received hundreds of calls from alumni/ae. I have truly enjoyed and been invigorated by these conversations with new and old friends alike. I have been honored to earn the support of generations of alumni/ae from across the political spectrum.”
Ashe added in the email that on Monday, Yale notified him that they would be counting the signatures on his petition via a third party to verify the final tally. According to Harry Levitt ’71, Ashe’s de facto campaign manager, the campaign has about 5,400 signatures as of Sept. 2.
“He not only crossed the barrier, he blew right through it,” Levitt told the News on Wednesday, adding that Ashe’s achievement is “a wonderful thing for Yale.”
While Levitt acknowledged that some duplicate votes have made their way onto the campaign’s lists — some alumni, he said, have signed onto the petition both online and on paper — he is confident that the campaign will still come out far beyond the nearly 4,400-signature requirement.
Ashe added that he is “very excited, very pleased [and] very thankful,” and said he plans to continue collecting signatures until the Oct. 1 deadline — “an investment in the main event” that will likely earn him more support in the general Corporation election in spring 2021. He added that so far, his campaign has gathered at least one signature from every eligible class year at Yale, as well as signatures from 46 states, Puerto Rico, the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland. Ashe will officially be listed as a candidate on the ballot once the Oct. 1 deadline passes.
Ashe is the first petition candidate to cross the signature threshold in 18 years. The last candidate to do so, the local New Haven Rev. W. David Lee DIV ’93, gained the required support in his petition but lost the general election to the Yale-backed candidate and renowned architect Maya Lin ’81 ARCH ’86, in a roughly 83-17 percent ratio.
Gaining enough signatures has proved difficult since the petition process was implemented. In all of Yale’s history, only William Horowitz ’29 managed to run as a petition candidate in the 1960s and won — but only after losing once. In addition to Lee in 2002, founder of the National Review William F. Buckley Jr. ’50 also gained enough signatures, but lost in a 1970s general election. In the past two years, Georgetown Law Professor Nicholas Rosenkranz ’92 LAW ’99 and conservative journalist James Kirchick ’06 both tried and failed to cross the support threshold.
Ashe is not the only candidate running on a petition basis — Maggie Thomas FES ’15 is also on track to reach the signature threshold as well. In a Tuesday email, Thomas wrote that her campaign is in “the home stretch” and currently counts 4,179 signatures as of Aug. 28. Should she reach the required number of signatures, former University Secretary Sam Chauncey ’57 told the News, Thomas would be the first woman ever to achieve official petition candidate status.
Thomas added that she is excited about Ashe’s achievement.
“I am thrilled that Victor has also reached the threshold – more voices participating in the Alumni Fellow Election and more candidates on the ballot will only lead to a stronger and more inclusive Yale,” Thomas wrote.
Ashe also told the News that because of the relatively high interest in both his and Thomas’ campaigns, he expects total voter turnout to jump in 2021 to at least 30,000, up from about 18,000 in the 2020 election. Yale’s eligible alumni voter base totals 146,481.
In addition the 17 members of the Corporation, the governor and lieutenant governor of Connecticut serve as ex-officio members.
Valerie Pavilonis | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Sept. 3: Previously, the article stated that the University selected two candidates for the ballot. Rather, candidates are suggested by interested alumni, and then vetted and chosen by the Alumni Fellow Nominating Committee that branches off from the Yale Alumni Association Board of Governors. The article has been updated to reflect this.