Over the next few months, Baha’is around the world will attend their unit conventions and elect individuals to serve as delegates at the upcoming National Conventions. These elected representatives will then go on to elect members of each National Spiritual Assembly.
Unique to the Baha’i Faith is its process of electing competent souls to serve in various capacities. It is democratic in every sense of the word: there is no campaigning, voting is conducted by secret ballot, and whether we are electing our unit delegate, the members of our Local Spiritual Assemblies or the members of the Regional Baha’i Councils, the electoral process stays the same all around the world.
Further contributing to the uniqueness of the Baha’i electoral process are the duties required of us as electors before, during and even after the election period. It is quite easy for us to forget these points and fall in the habit of casting our votes on election day without giving enough thought to who we are voting for and why, and without taking a meditative approach.
Based on the writings of the Universal House of Justice and the Guardian, I have split my interpretation of these writings into three steps.
Before the election takes place, we must do some groundwork. This step is ongoing and should also be applied after the election takes place. The Universal House of Justice states:
The manner in which the elector exercises the right and privilege to cast his vote is therefore of great significance. Shoghi Effendi’s instruction in this passage further explains that ‘to be able to make a wise choice at the election time, it is necessary for him to be in close and continued contact with all the local activities, be they teaching, administrative or otherwise, and to fully and whole-heartedly participate in the affairs of the local as well as national committees and assemblies in this country. It is only in this way that a believer can develop a true social consciousness and acquire a true sense of responsibility in matters affecting the interests of the Cause. Baha’i community life thus makes it a duty for every loyal and faithful believer to become an intelligent, well-informed and responsible elector, and also gives him the opportunity of raising himself to such a station.’((The Universal House of Justice, 25 March 2007, On Baha’i Electoral Process, par 6))
In order for us to make an informed and wise decision, it is clear that we need to be at the forefront of all the activities in our communities long before the day comes when we have to cast our votes. After all, how can we expect to know the qualities inherent in every individual in our area if we are not wholeheartedly working alongside them? Additionally, by participating in the affairs of the Faith, we will undoubtedly work with different agencies and institutions, and will better understand the functions and responsibilities of the bodies we are to elect, thereby allowing us to make more informed decisions.
We also need to reflect on the characteristics of the individuals we are considering voting for. The Universal House of Justice further states:
…with a heightened awareness of the functions to be performed by the elected body, the believer can properly assess those for whom a vote should be cast. From among the pool of those whom the elector believes to be qualified to serve, selection should be made with due consideration given to such factors as age distribution, diversity, and gender. The elector should make his choice after careful thought over an extended period before the actual election.1
Shoghi Effendi also sheds light on the characteristics we should be looking for in individuals, saying we must consider:
…the names of only those who can best combine the necessary qualities of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognised ability and mature experience.2
What is particularly noteworthy for me is that before we vote, we must consider whom to vote for “from among a pool” of individuals – implying we should have a number of people in mind from the start. From that point, we can narrow it down whilst keeping in mind the characteristics mentioned above. Again it is emphasised that our choices should be made over time prior to the election.
Having worked alongside community members and having considered the characteristics required for service on the respective institution, the time will arrive when we cast our ballots. We do so with a prayerful attitude, detached from all except God. For me, this is one step that clearly distinguishes Baha’i elections from those in the secular world. Shoghi Effendi states:
The electors…must prayerfully and devotedly and after meditation and reflection elect faithful, sincere, experienced, capable and competent souls who are worthy of membership.3
And again from Shoghi Effendi:
On the election day, the friends must wholeheartedly participate in the elections, in unity and amity, turning their hearts to God, detached from all things but Him, seeking His guidance and supplicating His aid and bounty.4
When we go to cast our vote, we are doing so because we want to contribute to an ever-advancing civilisation that has been set in motion by Baha’u’llah. We want to elect those individuals who can most competently serve Him. Therefore, it is imperative that we call upon God and ask for His guidance as we undertake the unique privilege that is ours.
Let us recall His explicit and often repeated assurances that every Assembly elected in that rarefied atmosphere of selflessness and detachment is, in truth, appointed by God…5
- The Universal House of Justice, 25 March 2007, On Baha’i Electoral Process, par 6 [↩]
- Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 88 [↩]
- Shoghi Effendi, 1 July 1943, to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Iran [↩]
- Shoghi Effendi, 27 February 1923, to the Baha’is in the East [↩]
- Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 65 [↩]