In 2014, Ms. Pascal played a powerful behind-the-scenes role in securing a contract renewal for Dawn Hudson, the academy’s chief executive, who has a paid post; the extension had been disputed. Ms. Hudson, in turn, was a leading architect of the academy’s recent drive to increase the number of women and ethnic minorities in the ranks, and to purge the voting rolls of often older, marginally active members.
If Ms. Pascal is defeated this year, it could be a signal about member sentiment regarding the diversity push and the culling of the voting rolls (which will be completed later this summer).
“It shouldn’t be based on racial makeup, gender or anything else,” Mr. Medavoy said in a phone interview of academy membership, arguing that professional achievement is the only criteria that should be considered. He also spoke of confronting changes in global markets.
By contrast, Laura Karpman, who is competing to represent the music branch, is emphasizing her hope that more diverse viewpoints will be represented.
“I am the first American woman composer in our branch,” Ms. Karpman said in an email. “My advancement to the final four is a true signal that the academy membership is inspired to change.”
She is running against her fellow composers Alan Bergman, Carter Burwell and Arthur Hamilton — all white males. (The incumbent, Charles Fox, has reached his term limit.)
Under newly democratized procedures this year, prospective governors — once nominated by committees — proposed themselves as candidates in a runoff round. In a preliminary vote, as many as four nominees per seat were given spots in an election that will begin on Wednesday, and will close on July 12.
In a break with past practice, when open campaigning was considered a breach of etiquette, the academy has encouraged prospective governors to post statements on a secure website open only to members.
Some also posted public statements in a forum provided by The Hollywood Reporter. In her public statement, Ms. Karpman said: “I am a founding member and president of the alliance of Women Film Composers. I am passionate about nurturing new talent and widening the perspectives of our community.”
While the race and gender of Oscar voters has been a subject of fierce debate, the new board will also be wrestling with internal issues. Those include the completion of a Los Angeles movie museum that is set to open in 2018 (with fund-raising still underway); the negotiation of a new broadcast contract for the Oscars, to take effect when the current deal with ABC expires in 2020; and the likely re-election of Ms. Isaacs, who has been in place for three years and is permitted to run for one further consecutive term.
An academy spokeswoman declined to discuss the election.
Despite the number of women running, the new board may well have a slightly lower percentage of women than the existing board, since some of the 18 nominees are competing for the same seat. In the costume designers branch, for instance, three female challengers — Sharen K. Davis, Ellen Mirojnick and Marilyn Vance — are running against a female incumbent, Judianna Makovsky.
Mr. Olmos is contesting an actors seat now held by Ed Begley Jr., as are Laura Dern and Lou Diamond Phillips (who has Filipino ancestry).
The four black candidates are Stephanie Allain for the producers, Roger Ross Williams for documentarians, Thomas Carter among directors and Ms. Davis among the costume designers.
But they face tough races. Ms. Allain, for instance, is running against Hawk Koch, a former academy president; Paula Wagner, a fellow female producer who was for years a business partner of Tom Cruise; and Mark Johnson, an incumbent who has been a force in shaping the academy’s annual foreign-language film award.
Similarly, Mr. Carter, whose directing credits include “Coach Carter” and “When the Game Stands Tall,” is in a face-off with John Badham, Lisa Cholodenko and Mr. Spielberg, the ultimate industry heavyweight.
Mr. Spielberg’s name appeared on the governors ballot about a decade ago, when elections were a quieter affair, and nominating committees advanced the names of candidates who were not necessarily eager to serve. Alexander Payne beat Mr. Spielberg then.
This time, Mr. Spielberg has remained publicly coy about his positions, or his reasons for running.
“I don’t think he particularly wants to talk about it,” said Mr. Spielberg’s longtime publicist, Marvin Levy, who himself is a governor — and not subject to the current election.
“He would feel if anybody would say anything, it would have to come from the academy,” said Mr. Levy, underscoring Mr. Spielberg’s old-school approach to the campaign.
He added, “And I would have to agree with that.”