Baha’i elections – individual impressions

There is no clergy in the Baha'i Faith. Baha'is elect their leadership by secret ballot, in a distinctive system without campaigning or nominations. Shown here are delegates from around the world voting in 1998 to elect the Universal House of Justice, the Baha'i Faith's supreme governing council. © Bahá’í International Community

There is no clergy in the Baha'i Faith. Baha'is elect their leadership by secret ballot, in a distinctive system without campaigning or nominations. Shown here are delegates from around the world voting in 1998 to elect the Universal House of Justice, the Baha'i Faith's supreme governing council. © Bahá’í International Community

“One of the most inspiring and impressive features of Baha’i elections to me is the serene, uplifting and unified spirit that permeates the process. When I cast my vote for my Local Spiritual Assembly, it is in a quiet, reverent atmosphere. There is no campaigning or effort to influence my vote; quite the opposite–I am left in the privacy of my conscience to make the best decision I can. And then, in the end, the specific individuals who are elected–rarely the exact nine individuals for whom a person has cast his or her vote–are wholeheartedly supported and the result is celebrated by all those who have participated. This focus on process, and a certain serene faith that if the process is permeated by spirituality and integrity the result will be inspired, is always very moving to me.”

~ Ramine Yazhari


“I was a Baha’i for many years before I really understood the power of the election process. I was on an assembly (the nine people in a location such as a town who organize activities and help when people have problems). Overall it was a great group and we were all friends. But I had to confess that one person just got on my nerves. It was all little stuff, like an attention to detail that bordered on obsession and a tendency to talk too slowly for this fast talking New England girl.

“When our next election came up, I looked at all the names of the adult Baha’is in our community and realized that the first name on my ballot would be for the person who irritated me the most. I also realized that this person brought unique and necessary qualities to the group and actually balanced out the quick nature of some of the rest of us. The emphasis on detail was necessary in our tasks.

Whether at the local, regional, national, or international level, Baha'i elections follow a similar process that seeks to choose spiritually minded leaders from the entire body of believers in the area. Shown here is a Baha'i election in process in Panama. © Bahá’í International Community

Whether at the local, regional, national, or international level, Baha'i elections follow a similar process that seeks to choose spiritually minded leaders from the entire body of believers in the area. Shown here is a Baha'i election in process in Panama. © Bahá’í International Community

“On a personal level, I needed to find a way to look to this person’s strengths and to even see that some of the strengths were things that I had previously considered weaknesses. Luckily we were both elected to the assembly and I found myself really learning from the experience. I feel that the prayerful and respectful tone of Baha’i elections made it possible for me to see it all in this light.”

~ Claire Levesque


“In 1989, I spent four months in the Western Province of Kenya, East Africa. At election time, I assisted with the process of election the Spiritual Assembly in the little village of Namawanga, where there were about forty Baha’is. I helped the secretary of the assembly prepare several copies of a list that contained all names of the adults eligible to serve on their local assembly. I was asked to be the teller, the official ballot counter.

“There was no campaigning, of course. The Baha’is in this village organized their election by first appointing several youth to run around the village to the Baha’i homes. Each youth had a copy of the list of eligible Baha’is. At the homes they visited to collect ballots, they either waited while the voter listed their choice of nine members – or they left a ballot that the person could deliver themselves. Eventually all ballots were brought to the Center. Meanwhile, it was getting dark at the small Baha’i Center. We set up a table with a lantern outdoors and collected the ballots.

Delegates and observers at the 2005 national convention of the Baha'is of the United States pictured outside the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. © Bahá’í International Community

Delegates and observers at the 2005 national convention of the Baha'is of the United States pictured outside the Baha'i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. © Bahá’í International Community

“In a country that, at the time, could not vote by secret ballot in their government elections, it struck me how important this was for them. The pattern for Baha’i elections is such a stark contrast. In civic elections, voters had to stand in line for a long time and give their vote verbally in front of an incumbent party representative. In Baha’i elections we vote by secret ballot, preserving each person’s freedom to vote as he or she chooses.

“I recall being shocked that the Baha’is wanted to stand around me as I read the ballots and counted the votes as they came in.

“They watched the results as they were tallied. This was an extreme form of accountability for me, the ballot counter. I also recall that the same person might be named differently by different people, and I needed help knowing who was whom. The women sometimes used their husband’s name, and sometimes retained their maiden name.

“At the end, the chairman read the final results, and everyone applauded and seemed happy.

“Given the current troubles in Kenya, including killings when there is a disputed national election, I often think about the pattern of perfection used by these precious Baha’is who lived in a poor agricultural region where few even had electricity.”

~ Julie Swan
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