Naw Ruz marks the end of the Fast and the beginning of a new year in the Baha’i calendar. Naw-Ruz is a celebration of a “spiritual springtime” that symbolizes both individual renewal and mankind’s revitalization.
Ridvan, also known as the Most Great Festival, celebrates Baha’u’llah’s time in the garden of Ridvan on the outskirts of Baghdad in 1863 where He publicly declared His station as a Manifestation of God. The Ridvan Festival is 12 days long and is also the time of year where Baha’is elect their local and national governing bodies, and every five years, the international governing body for the worldwide Baha’i community.
Baha’i Elections: 3 Steps to Becoming an Intelligent and Well-Informed Elector
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.
The Universal House of Justice, 25 March 2007, On Baha’i Electoral Process, par 6
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.
Shoghi Effendi, Baha’i Administration, p. 88
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.
Shoghi Effendi, 1 July 1943, to the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of Iran
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.
Shoghi Effendi, 27 February 1923, to the Baha’is in the East
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…
Dellaram is a Baha'i, wife, and mother of three, who works as a freelance journalist and copywriter in her hometown of Ballarat, Australia. She is passionate about building community and loves the thrill that comes with op-shopping!
Thank you for this well written post, Della. It gives me much food for thought as our Unit Convention approaches!
Sonjel (December 12, 2013 at 12:28 AM)
Thank you for your kind words Sonjel. I’m glad the post provided you with some food for thought 🙂
Della V. (December 12, 2013 at 2:27 AM)
Thank you for a lovely read! We are trying to encourage our communities towards increased participation in the election process. I’ll be happy to share your article with the rest of our LSA 🙂
Leyla (December 12, 2013 at 3:59 AM)
You’re welcome Leyla. It’s wonderful to know these reflections might assist individuals and communities all around the world! I thank Baha’i Blog for having this resource available so we can all share our thoughts.
Della V. (December 12, 2013 at 5:52 AM)
Thank you for your wonderful thoughts it really gives me clear understanding as to who I will vote for the
coming Unit Convention.
vincent Kondo (December 12, 2013 at 2:06 AM)
You’re welcome Vincent. Thank you for your positive feedback!
Della V. (December 12, 2013 at 11:12 AM)
I was once appointed to a small team in Ottawa, Canada, to assist in the education of believers as to their responsibilities, methods, thought processes and all-round participation in the electoral process. It was an education for me. For one thing, my partner had thought about Baha’i elections in a much more systematic, practical way than I had. I’d worked hard to embrace and grasp the “mystical path” component of elections — the prayerful spirit, and a few general principles — but hadn’t been too thoughtful about the “practical feet” part (systematic thinking about the composition of Assemblies, for example, and of course enacting, as Della points out, the over-arching reality that if elections are something we think about as we arrive at the Convention, or at the LSA’s Annual Meeting, then we’re a tad late!).
There is a Baha’i professor of Political Science and Philosophy at McGill University, Arash Abizadeh, who has written THIS: http://profs-polisci.mcgill.ca/abizadeh/Bahai-Elections-Fulltext.htm . It’s long and scholarly, and you can find shorter summaries of his thinking if you hunt a bit, but this is great, deep thinking on something most of us haven’t given enough attention to. So, thanks to BT and Della V, too!
James Howden (December 12, 2013 at 3:09 PM)
Thank you for your reflection James. I found that writing this blog post also allowed me to think more deeply about the “practical” component of elections. Thank you also for sharing Arash’s article and shedding more light on such an important topic!
Della V. (December 12, 2013 at 10:46 AM)
I’m coming to this conversation a bit late, but I’m only now catching up on Baha’i Blog posts. Your thoughts here are so clearly expressed and so helpful, as they are drawn out from the guidance we have about elections. I am often embarrassed by the way Baha’is approach and execute their electoral duties, but it takes your kind of positive steps to make a difference overall. Thanks for the deep thought this post reflects.
Alan Manifold (December 12, 2013 at 2:24 AM)
Totally refreshing, especially in light what we see today taking place as the political parties attempt to “elect” their representatives to their national convention—complete and total reaffirmation (as if that were necessary) of our Guardian’s guidance and warnings as to our involvement in party politics—hope this is appropriate, but the current political chaos and confusion also points out and unequivocally demonstrates the undeniable truth of his statement to his beloved wife Rúhíyyih Rabbani “that the United States was the most corrupt country politically in the world” (The Priceless Pearl, 361).
kenton dunbar (April 4, 2016 at 5:35 PM)
A technical question: does anyone know of a reference to answer this?
If the unit convention is to be held on Dec. 17th and a believer turns 21 on Dec. 27th, can he be elected delegate? I know he can’t vote, but since he will be 21 at the time National Convention is held, I am wondering if he would be eligible.
Julie Freehill (December 12, 2016 at 5:03 PM)
Wow! That’s an interesting question! Depending on where you live and what resources you have available at your disposal, I would carefully read over any guidelines or instructions you may have from your National Spiritual Assembly.
This is just my personal thought on the subject but I’ll gladly stand corrected if anyone has references. The guidance and instructions for convening unit conventions here in Canada states that a vote for the delegate is spoiled if the person listed is under 21 years of age. I, personally, take this to mean that it doesn’t matter if the individual will be 21 at the time of National Convention — they have to be 21 at the time of the unit convention when the votes are cast. Again, this is only my humble and limited understanding and perhaps this needs to be referred to your National Spiritual Assembly for further guidance.
Thank you for posing this intricate question and I wish you good luck in finding an authoritative answer!
Sonjel Vreeland (December 12, 2016 at 5:30 PM)
Thanks again Baha’i Blog for this article of Ms Dellaram about Baha’i Election.
Criselda R. Figuerres (April 4, 2019 at 11:51 AM)
You’re most welcome Criselda! 🙂
Naysan Naraqi (April 4, 2019 at 8:19 PM)