Casting Two Ballots: Reflections from a Canadian Bahá’í Voter

The school semester has finally come to an end, and I’m soooo looking forward to a summer of blogging. During the semester I had kept notes on topics that I would be writing about. Here’s what you can look forward to:

Self-efficacy, Service, and Mental Health

Survey Courses and the World of Names

Science and Religion: Two Humble Paths

Human Rights vs. Human Responsibilities

The Institute Process: Our Best Parenting Course

Secularism and the Most Grievous Oppression

My fingers are tingling with excitement right now, so let’s get started.

Today I’m all about Elections. Because this spring I’m casting TWO ballots! What did you say Emad? Two ballots? How’s that? Well, you see, I’m currently residing in two electoral districts: Halifax West, and Halifax Cluster. In the Halifax West riding I’m voting for my future municipal and federal government, and in the Halifax Bahá’í Cluster I’m voting for my future Local Spiritual Assembly. Interestingly enough, this is all happening during the Bahá’í festival of Riḍván, i.e., the Bahá’í elections are happening on the first day of Riḍván (tonight at sunset), and the Federal elections are happening on the last day of Riḍván (May 2nd).

Coincidence? Absolutely.

Blog-worthy? Yeppers!

My purpose here isn’t to bog you down with information regarding the election processes or administrative structures that distinguish these two systems. Rather, I’m merely trying to provide you with the unique perspective of a voter living in two very different, yet intimately connected worlds. Therefore, let’s be clear that the views below are my own, and are not an official Bahá’í position.

Distinguishing features

As I said above, I don’t want to bog you down with too much info, but I think it’s important to have a simple understanding of what distinguishes Bahá’í elections from Canadian federal elections. So I’ve created this really simplistic table that does no justice to the topic whatsoever, but heck…it’s pretty.


Canadian Federal


Voting Age



Number of representatives per Electoral district

1 Member of Legislative Assembly (a.k.a. Member of Parliament)

9 Members of a Local Spiritual Assembly


Preselected party members who are nominated by a minimum number of constituents become candidates for MLA seat and compete with other local party candidates. First to receive majority wins the seat.

All Baha’is in good standing over the age of 21. The nine individuals who receive the highest number of votes form the Assembly.




Secret Ballot?

Yes, but public discussion, rallying, federal polling, and nominations often disclose individual preferences.

Yes. Formal rules include no campaigning, canvassing, or election propaganda; that there be no coalition-, faction-, or party-formation; and no nominations. The qualities and characteristics required for Assembly membership are discussed rather than the people themselves.
Term Until the next dissolution of parliament 1 year for local and national Assemblies
Salary Yes. The annual salary of each Member of Parliament, as of 2010, is $157,731

No. However, if necessary the secretary of the Local Assembly may be paid a minimal salary to help with the heavy burden of this position.

True Secret ballot?

I often cringe as reporters on Canadian television end their interviews, debates, and live discussions with “So whom are you voting for this election?” What’s worse is that the respondent actually TELLS THEM! On live radio/television! JEEZ! Seriously, between that and canvassing people’s lawns with yucky campaign billboards I don’t see the point in using secret ballots at polling stations. I’ve even seen reporters outside of polling sites interviewing voters after-the-fact, “so who did you vote for?” Yuck!

As a Bahá’í voter, I have been conditioned to believe that the purpose in secret ballots is to provide the voter with the absolute freedom to choose without being biased or influenced by agendas, ambitions, or platforms. As stated in this article, the Bahá’í system encourages voter responsibility and community development:

“Bahá’í electoral procedures and methods have, indeed, for one of their essential purposes the development in every believer of the spirit of responsibility. By emphasizing the necessity of maintaining his full freedom in the elections, they make it incumbent upon him to become an active and well-informed member of the Bahá’í community in which he lives.

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 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 his country.

Bahá’í 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.” ~ Shoghi Effendi

But far from being perfect, the Bahá’ís themselves will sometimes forget that the principles of Bahá’í elections are not only for the Bahá’í administrative system, but also for the world at large.  So please don’t ask me who I’m voting for on May 2nd, and please don’t push your political ideology on me – let me vote as a free and unbiased constituent. Thanks.

Who are we voting for?

Okay. When I listen to a political debate this is basically what I hear:

Politician on the offensive: “Don’t vote for him and his crew, cause they’re a bunch of liars. They promised you A, and they delivered B. You can’t trust those damned conniving phonies.”

Politician on the defensive: “In 1972 I promised you A, and in 1998 I delivered A. My record is solid and my word is gold. Today I’ll promise you A, and if you vote for me, I’ll deliver A.”

And that, my friends, is the game. It’s a formula. Just watch the debates – the offensive is always the same, and the defensive is always the same: I promised, and I delivered; he promised, but he failed to deliver. I promise I’ll deliver, but he won’t. Seriously, it’s all crap.

In Bahá’í elections there are no promises because the platform is the same for every Bahá’í community across the globe. The Bahá’í platform – or, more appropriately, our vision – includes (but is not limited to) the following:

–  Promoting the oneness of humanity

–  Promoting the equality of men and women

–  Elimination of all forms of prejudice: racial, religious, national, or economic

–  Encouraging and empowering the individual to independently investigate truth without preconceptions

–  Encouraging the harmony of science and religion

–  Promoting spiritual solutions to economic problems

–  Strengthening of the family unit

–  Promoting the oneness of God

–  Establishing the truth of all religions

–  Encouraging and establishing world peace

Bahá’í administration is a means to an end, i.e., to establish the world embracing vision of the Bahá’u’llàh. The Local and National Assemblies are charged with guiding the community towards that vision, but also have the following obligations to fulfill (see Constitution):

–  To win by every means in their power the confidence and affection of those whom it is their privilege to serve

–  To investigate and acquaint themselves with the considered views, the prevailing sentiments and the personal conviction of those whose welfare it is their solemn obligation to promote

–  To purge their deliberations and the general conduct of their affairs of self-contained aloofness, the suspicion of secrecy, the stifling atmosphere of dictatorial assertiveness and of every word and deed that may savour of partiality, self-centredness and prejudice

–  And while retaining the sacred right of final decision in their hands, to invite discussion, ventilate grievances, welcome advice and foster the sense of interdependence and co-partnership, of understanding and mutual confidence between themselves and all other Bahá’ís.

As a Bahá’í voter, I’m not voting for a political platform because I believe in universal truths that promote the welfare of humankind. As a Bahá’í voter, I’m voting for individuals who can best serve as members of an Assembly. Shoghi Effendi described the criteria for membership on a Local Spiritual Assembly as follows:

–       Unquestioned loyalty

–       Selfless devotion

–       Well-trained mind

–       Recognized ability

–       Mature experience

–       One who is faithful, sincere, experienced, capable and competent

Of course, the interpretation and application of these criteria is truly up to me as a voter. As a Canadian voter I have also chosen to employ these criteria when voting for my local MLA/MP. So rather than allowing myself to be carried away by platforms or partisan bickering, I do my best to select a local representative who best fulfills the characteristics above. This is hard…really hard. But it’s what a true democracy should be, so it’s worth it.

But wait a second!? These aren’t the only criteria for voters in the Bahá’í community to follow. Nope. Let’s say that you’ve selected eight names, but you’re stuck on the ninth. You know of two individuals who fulfill the above criteria and would do an equally excellent job as members of an Assembly. What to do? Well, you discriminate. That’s right; Bahá’ís are encouraged to discriminate during elections. There are four specific criteria that we are to consider as qualities that the collective Assembly should have as a whole:

–       Diversity

–       Representativeness

–       Minority presence

–       Youth presence

Perhaps if the Canadian federal elections employed these criterion the House of Commons wouldn’t be stacked full of old white men. Perhaps. Maybe Canadians just aren’t ready for that yet.

Insidious Forces

My attitude towards voting is largely influenced by my upbringing in the Bahá’í community, but two forces have disillusioned me:

  1. Canadian political practices influencing the attitudes towards voting and administration in the Bahá’í community
  2. Baha’is forgetting to apply the Bahá’í principles to Canadian Federal elections.

These forces are insidious, and must be nipped in the bud. Tonight, I’m a teller at our local Bahá’í elections. I’m looking forward to gathering with the local Bahá’ís in fellowship and prayer before voting for a new Assembly that will be welcomed and loved regardless of its membership. I am also looking forward to the Canadian Federal elections on May 2nd where Canadians will practice their democratic rights at the ballot box, and will vote in a new government. The question is, will Canadians love and welcome their new government, regardless of membership? I doubt it.

For more information on Bahá’í elections check out the following links

The first three are from Arash Abizadeh who is an associated professor of political science at McGill University:

Bahá’í newsletters:

Wikipedia for good measure:

Then there is the actual text from the Bahá’í Writings if you’re keen.


  1. I love the sound of the Bahá’í approach, and I am looking forward to some of your upcoming posts. (Am still thinking about my project for you…)

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