Q. What are the purposes of National Convention?
A. The Universal House of Justice, in an April 4, 1971, letter to our National Spiritual Assembly, explained, “[T]he primary purpose in holding a convention is to enable the delegates to meet together,
deliberate freely upon the affairs of the community, and cast their ballots. Other considerations such as allowing the rank and file of believers to attend the Convention or follow its deliberations are secondary in importance. Obviously it is within the discretion of your National Assembly to decide upon
these secondary matters.” The balloting to which the letter refers is for the nine members of the National Assembly that will serve for the coming year.
Q. When is National Convention?
A. Most years, National Convention is held on a weekend during the 12-day Festival of Riḍván that doesn’t conflict with the election of Local Spiritual Assemblies on April 20-21. Every five years — this
year is one of them — National Convention is held in late May. In those years the Universal House of Justice is elected at the Bahá’í World Center in Haifa, Israel. Since that election takes place in April, the National Convention is held in May to enable the National Assembly members to attend the International Convention and report back to the community about their experience in Haifa.
Q. Where is National Convention held?
A. For the past several years, all sessions of the National Convention have been held at the Bahá’í House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois. In the past, the National Convention was often held in a large hotel meeting space to allow a large number of Bahá’ís to attend. Mostly for budgetary reasons, Convention sessions are now held at the Bahá’í House of Worship.
Q. Who can attend National Convention?
A. The small number of seats in Foundation Hall at the Bahá’í House of Worship greatly limits the
number of people who can attend. Delegates are guaranteed seats, as are members of the Continental Board of Counselors and the National Spiritual Assembly. The remainder of seats in Foundation Hall are filled first-come-first-served by members of the Auxiliary Boards for Protection and Propagation and the Regional Bahá’í Councils, a small number of the Bahá’ís serving at the Bahá’í National Center and guests such as delegates’ family members. Once all the seats in Foundation Hall are taken, the remainder of attendees may view the proceedings from the Viewing Room of the Visitors Center.
Q. How are National Convention delegates elected, and who is eligible to serve?
A. The number of delegates allocated to the U.S. Bahá’í National Convention was set by the
Guardian, Shoghi Effendi, at 171. At Unit Convention in early October, the Bahá’ís in nearly all geographical units elect one believer to be the delegate from that unit. A very few units, because of the large number of believers they contain, elect more than one delegate. Any adult Bahá’í in good standing who lives in the unit is eligible to serve as a delegate, except members of the
Continental Board of Counselors. If an Auxiliary Board member is elected as a delegate, he or she must decide whether to serve as delegate or remain on the Auxiliary Board. If the elected delegate cannot serve, the National Spiritual Assembly chooses his or her replacement. The list of Bahá’ís who finished second through fourth in the delegate balloting informs the National Assembly’s consultation but does not dictate its selection of a replacement.
Q. How do delegates prepare for National Convention?
A. To assist new and returning delegates in preparing for participation in the Convention, a booklet
titled “National Convention: A Statement and Compilation of Extracts from the Bahá’í Writings Prepared by the Research Department of the Universal House of Justice” is sent to them in advance of the Convention for their study and reference. Election materials, the National Spiritual Assembly’s Annual Report, and a preliminary Convention agenda also are sent to delegates. On the morning
National Convention begins, a deepening for delegates on the significance and purpose of the National Convention is facilitated by members of the Continental Board of Counselors.
Q. Who may speak at
A. The privilege of the floor is extended to delegates, members of the Continental Board of
Counselors, and members of the National Spiritual Assembly. Also able to speak when invited are Bahá’ís who deliver reports, such as representatives of the Board of Trustees for Ḥuqúqu’lláh, or possess information that will inform the delegates’ consultation, such as a visiting Counselor member of the International Teaching Center.
Q. Who may serve as a National Convention officer?
A. Any delegate present for the proceedings may serve as Convention chair or secretary. The body
of delegates elects the officers by secret ballot in the opening session of the Convention.
Q. How is the National Convention agenda decided?
A. A preliminary agenda, guided by the purposes of National Convention and themes of the current Plan, is presented by the National Spiritual Assembly to the delegates. Delegates may propose changes to the agenda and have them adopted by the body of delegates by show of hands.
Q. How is consultation conducted at National Convention?
A. The exact manner of consultation, such as how long each delegate may speak or whether preference
will be given to delegates who have not yet spoken, is decided by the body of delegates at the beginning of Convention. Each delegate has a number and raises that number to be recognized by the Convention secretary. The secretary lists the delegates in order of recognition and that list can be seen by all on
monitors placed on the wall behind the stage. When the time is near for a delegate to speak, he or she moves to one of the microphones on the stage and awaits his or her turn. When delegates speak they may offer insights on the topic of consultation for that time period and offer a suggestion or recommendation to the National Spiritual Assembly for its consideration. The past two years, delegates have dispensed with the rigidity of formalized rules of order, allowing what they say is a more robust consultation; in particular they cite a decision to give the Convention chair latitude whether to raise a suggestion to a recommendation and to gauge when to bring a recommendation to a vote. Suggestions require no vote of the body of delegates. A recommendation that receives a second is consulted on specifically and the body of delegates decides by show of hands whether to pass it along to the National Assembly. When a recommendation is proposed, delegates who wish to speak to that recommendation are listed and come to a microphone in the order they were recognized.
Q. How is the National Spiritual Assembly elected?
A. On Saturday morning of National Convention, the delegates gather in a closed session monitored by the members of the Continental Board of Counselors present to vote prayerfully by secret ballot for the nine members of the National Spiritual Assembly. A ballot that contains more or fewer than nine names is invalid. A vote for a person not eligible for election is not counted. Delegates who cannot attend may vote by absentee ballot. The nine individuals receiving the highest numbers of votes serve on the National Assembly until the next annual National Convention.
Q. How are National Spiritual Assembly election results reported at National Convention?
A. The manner of reporting the results, beyond the names of the nine elected members of the National Spiritual Assembly, is decided by the body of delegates on the first day of Convention.