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Bahá’í Elections


The Bahá’í electoral system is unique to this Dispensation:

When called upon to vote in a Bahá’í election, believers should be aware that they are carrying out a sacred task unique to this Dispensation. (Universal House of Justice Letter on Bahá’í Elections To the Bahá’ís of the World, 25 March 2007)

It has several distinctive features:

  • It is carried out by secret ballot
  • There are no nominations or electioneering
  • They encourage universal participation
  • Every adult Bahá’í is eligible for election to local and national administrative bodies responsible for decision in the conduct of Bahá’í affairs.

The Bahá’í electoral system, operating by secret ballot, with no nominations or electioneering, encourages universal participation: every adult Bahá’í is eligible for election to local and national administrative bodies responsible for decision in the conduct of Bahá’í affairs. (Bahá’í International Community, 1993 Apr 05, Equality of Men & Women A New Reality)

Whether we’re voting at the unit convention; the Assemblies; or the Baha’i Council – the principles and requirements are the same.

In regard to your question about qualification of delegates and Assembly members: the qualifications which he outlines are really applicable to anyone we elect to a Bahá’í office, whatever its nature. But these are only an indication, they do not mean people who don’t fulfill them cannot be elected to office. We must aim as high as we can.  (Shoghi Effendi, The Spiritual Character of Bahá’í Elections)

The following ideas are taken from two letters of the House of Justice:

  • 15 March 2007 to the Baha’is of the World on the topic of elections
  • 16 May 2013, to the delegates gathered at the Baha’i National Conventions

Preparing for the Election:

As we prepare for the upcoming municipal elections with a federal election to follow next year, we notice the erosion of trust and collaboration between the individual and the elected institutions. Contributing to the widening distrust of so vital a process are:

  • the influence on the outcome from vested interests having access to lavish funds
  • the restrictions on freedom of choice inherent in the party system
  • the distortion in public perception of the candidates by the bias expressed in the media.

All of this results in:

  • apathy, alienation, and disillusionment
  • a growing sense of despair of the unlikelihood that the most capable citizens will emerge to deal with the manifold problems of a defective social order.

The electoral system given to us by Baha’u’llah is without precedent in human history and Baha’is everywhere are giving greater attention to strengthening the process by which we elect our local and national assemblies and Baha’i Councils.

In order to do this we must become active and well-informed members of the Baha’i community in which we live.

To be able to make a wise choice at the election time, it is necessary for us to:

  • be in close and continued contact with all local activities (both teaching and administrative)
  • fully and whole-heartedly participate in the affairs of the local as well as national committees and assemblies
  • get thoroughly acquainted with one another
  • exchange views
  • mix freely
  • discuss the requirements and qualifications for such a membership without reference however indirect, to particular individuals.

Then, after careful thought over an extended period of time, we need to create a list of names of those who have the necessary qualities of:

  • unquestioned loyalty
  • selfless devotion
  • a well-trained mind
  • recognized ability
  • mature experience

From among the pool of those we believe to be qualified to serve, we then give due consideration to such other factors as:

  • age distribution
  • diversity
  • gender

Finally, we should strive to purge ourselves from every trace of:

  • worldly tendencies
  • personal ambitions
  • promotion of individuals, or partisanship

And then we approach this duty

  • in a prayerful attitude
  • seeking divine guidance and confirmation

Then, turning completely to God, and with

  • a purity of motive
  • a freedom of spirit
  • a sanctity of heart

we participate in the elections.

When we wholehearted embrace the Baha’i electoral process in this way, we will witness a greater contrast between the emerging institutions of the Baha’i Administrative Order and the decaying social order around us.

Personally, I find that thrilling!

Election Day: 

Sometimes there are circumstances beyond our control which make it impossible for an election to take place at the prescribed time and place.  In those cases, the National Spiritual Assembly will make a ruling:

However, there may be cases when conditions beyond the control of the local believers exist, such as, as you have said, the Bahá’ís had left the community because of flooding, or extremely inclement weather conditions made it impossible to hold the election. In such cases which, by their very nature, should be rare, the National Spiritual Assembly may use its discretion in recognizing the Local Spiritual Assembly, considering it a group, or decide to hold the election of such Local Spiritual Assemblies at a later date when the friends have returned to their communities.  (Universal House of Justice to the National Spiritual Assembly of Ecuador, September 5, 1983)

Voting by telephone:

If it is not possible to vote by mail, you may cast your vote by telephone in the following manner:  Please call the Bahá’í National Centre … Tell the receptionist that you are a delegate who wishes to cast your ballot in the National Spiritual Assembly by-election.  The receptionist will connect you to a person who will ask for your name, your Bahá’í identification number and other information to verify your identity as a delegate.  You will then be transferred anonymously to a second individual.  Without identifying yourself, state to this second individual the name of the person for whom you are voting.  As you can appreciate, to protect confidentiality it is important that you not engage in conversation with this second person, but say only the name of the individual for whom you are voting.  (National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada, to all delegates to the 2013 National Convention, regarding by-election)


When we vote, we must vote for the 9 people who are best suited to serve. Even if we have a low opinion of all those who are eligible, it is still our duty is to vote for those nine from among them who, in our estimation, best meet the standards for service on a Spiritual Assembly. Those who do not wish to vote for nine, may achieve his end by purposely including the names of those who are ineligible, but this would be a betrayal of the trust placed in him as a Bahá’í voter.

It is a basic principle of elections for Bahá’í Spiritual Assemblies that each voter must vote for the nine people who, in his or her opinion, are best suited to serve. He may have a low opinion of all those who are eligible, but his duty is to vote for those nine from among them who, in his estimation, best meet the standards for service on a Spiritual Assembly. This is how it is possible to vote for exactly nine names. Since the membership of an Assembly is nine, it would give rise to a number of statistical anomalies if voters were permitted to record votes for fewer or more than nine names. In any one election there are not usually any cases where a voter accidentally makes a mistake and includes a name of an ineligible person, so the statistical effect is slight, and there is no need to invalidate his whole ballot. As you point out, a believer who does not wish to vote for nine, may achieve his end by purposely including the names of those who are ineligible, but this would be a betrayal of the trust placed in him as a Bahá’í voter. One cannot control such actions, but like any action contrary to the spirit of the Faith, they are detrimental and should be strongly discouraged.  (Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, October 26, 1983)

When elected to serve, we must carry out this sacred responsibility.  It is possible, though, to suggest we not be elected as an officer:

We have also been asked to point out that although it is the obligation of a Bahá’í to serve on an Assembly, either Local or National, when elected, on several occasions the beloved Guardian pointed out that before the election of officers, if any member had a good reason in his own opinion why he should not be elected to one of the offices of the Assembly, he was free to suggest that he should not be so elected.  (Universal House of Justice, NSA USA – Developing Distinctive Bahá’í Communities)

On 4 August 2016 the Universal House of Justice sent a message to all National Spiritual Assemblies, about organizing unit conventions.  You can read the letter here.

How has this helped you understand how to carry out your sacred responsibility?  Post your comments below!

The Right to Vote

Canada is going to the polls next week, to elect a new prime minister and the United States will soon be electing a president. Apathy is setting in on both sides of the border as many people are not planning to vote because they don’t think their vote will matter. We know, as Baha’is that the old world structures are crumbling, but what is more worrisome, is when people don’t vote in Baha’i elections either.

This week I got a story from an email from a friend, who reminds us that the right to vote was hard fought:

This is the story of our Grandmothers and Great-grandmothers; who lived only 90 years ago. Remember, it was not until 1920 that women were granted the right to go to the polls and vote.

The women were innocent and defenseless, but they were jailed nonetheless for picketing the White House, carrying signs asking for the vote. And by the end of the night, they were barely alive. Forty prison guards wielding clubs and their warden’s blessing went on a rampage against the 33 women wrongly convicted of ‘obstructing sidewalk traffic.

They beat Lucy Burns, chained her hands to the cell bars above her head and left her hanging for the night, bleeding and gasping for air. They hurled Dora Lewis into a dark cell, smashed her head against an iron bed and knocked her out cold. Her cell mate, Alice Cosu, thought Lewis was dead and suffered a heart attack. Additional affidavits describe the guards grabbing, dragging, beating, choking, slamming, pinching, twisting and kicking the women.

Thus unfolded the ‘Night of Terror’ on Nov. 15, 1917,when the warden at the Occoquan Workhouse in Virginia ordered his guards to teach a lesson to the suffragists imprisoned there because they dared to picket Woodrow Wilson’s White House for the right to vote. For weeks, the women’s only water came from an open pail. Their food–all of it colorless slop–was infested with worms.

When one of the leaders, Alice Paul, embarked on a hunger strike, they tied her to a chair, forced a tube down her throat and poured liquid into her until she vomited. She was tortured like this for weeks until word was smuggled out to the press.

So, refresh my memory. Some women won’t vote this year because–why, exactly? We have carpool duties? We have to get to work? Our vote doesn’t matter? It’s raining?

Last week, I went to a sparsely attended screening of HBO’s new movie ‘Iron Jawed Angels. ‘ It is a graphic depiction of the battle these women waged so that I could pull the curtain at the polling booth and have my say. I am ashamed to say I needed the reminder.All these years later, voter registration is still my passion. But the actual act of voting had become less personal for me, more rote.

Frankly, voting often felt more like an obligation than a privilege. Sometimes it was inconvenient. My friend Wendy, who is my age and studied women’s history, saw the HBO movie, too. When she stopped by my desk to talk about it, she looked angry. She was–with herself. ‘One thought kept coming back to me as I watched that movie,’ she said. ‘What would those women think of the way I use, or don’t use, my right to vote?

All of us take it for granted now, not just younger women, but those of us who did seek to learn.’ The right to vote, she said, had become valuable to her ‘all over again.’HBO released the movie on video and DVD I wish all history, social studies and government teachers would include the movie in their curriculum.

I want it shown anywhere else women gather. I realize this isn’t our usual idea of socializing, but we are not voting in the numbers that we should be, and I think a little shock therapy is in order.
It is jarring to watch Woodrow Wilson and his cronies try to persuade a psychiatrist to declare Alice Paul insane so that she could be permanently institutionalized. And it is inspiring to watch the doctor refuse. Alice Paul was strong, he said, and brave. That didn’t make her crazy. The doctor admonished the men: ‘Courage in women is often mistaken for insanity.’

On a personal note: last year when I cast my vote, I was acutely aware that I was doing it for all of the women of my grandmother’s generation, who fought for my right to be there.

What are your thoughts on elections? Post your comments here: