Common questions about the Baha’i National Convention
Each spring, Baha’is representing localities from across the country gather at the Baha’i House of Worship in Wilmette, Illinois, to elect the National Spiritual Assembly of the Baha’is of the United States. This nine-person assembly guides the affairs of the national Baha’i community for the coming year.
Delegates attending the National Convention come from one of 171 geographic units. Each delegate was elected to represent their area in a “unit convention” held the previous October.
Q: What’s the purpose of National Convention?
A: The primary purpose of the convention is to enable delegates to meet, deliberate freely upon the affairs of the community, and cast their ballots for the National Spiritual Assembly for the coming annual term.
Q: When is National Convention held?
A: Most years, National Convention is held in late April on an extended weekend during the 12-day Festival of Riḍvan. This festival commemorates Baha’u’llah’s announcement that He is God’s latest Messenger. Every five years–and 2018 is one of them–National Convention is held in late May. Those are the years when the international governing council, the Universal House of Justice, is elected at the Baha’i World Center in Haifa, Israel. Since that election takes place in April, the National Convention is held in May to enable the current National Assembly members to attend the International Convention.
Q: Who attends?
A: The relatively small number of seats in Foundation Hall at the Baha’i House of Worship limits the number of people who can attend the National Convention. Delegates are guaranteed seats. Members of elected and appointed Baha’i institutions, a small number of Baha’i National Center staff members and guests, such as delegates’ family members, also attend.
Q: How do delegates prepare for National Convention?
A: To assist new and returning delegates in preparing for participation in the Convention, they are provided with many writings from the Baha’i Faith relating to Convention. Election materials, the National Spiritual Assembly’s Annual Report, and a preliminary Convention agenda also are provided. On the morning National Convention begins, a study session 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 National Convention?
A: The privilege of the floor is extended to delegates, members of the Continental Board of Counselors, and members of the National Spiritual Assembly. Occasionally, other Baha’is are invited to deliver reports or share information that will inform the delegates’ consultation.
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 officers by secret ballot in the opening session of the Convention.
Q: How is the National Convention agenda decided?
A: A preliminary agenda is presented by the National Spiritual Assembly to the delegates. Delegates are free to propose changes to the agenda and have them adopted by the body of delegates.
Q: How is consultation conducted at National Convention?
A: The exact manner of consultation, such as how long each delegate may speak, 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 above the stage. When the time comes near for a delegate to speak, he or she moves to the front of the hall and awaits his or her turn, at which point he or she stands at a lectern and speaks at a microphone. Delegates may offer insights on the topic of consultation for that session and may offer a suggestion or recommendation to the National Spiritual Assembly for its consideration. Suggestions require no vote of the body of delegates. A recommendation is consulted on and the body of delegates decides by show of hands whether to pass it along to the National Assembly.
Q: Are recordings made of the proceedings?
A: Portions of the proceedings are audio or video recorded and highlights are made available for use by delegates when they present their reports back to their local Baha’i communities.
Q: How is the National Spiritual Assembly elected?
A: On Saturday morning of National Convention, the delegates gather—in a session monitored by the members of the Continental Board of Counselors present and witnessed by registered non-delegates—to vote prayerfully by secret ballot for the nine members of the National Spiritual Assembly. Delegates who cannot attend Convention may vote by absentee ballot. A ballot that contains more or fewer than nine names is invalid. A vote for a person ineligible for election is not counted. The nine individuals who receive a plurality of the votes are elected to serve on the National Assembly for one year. In case of a tie, preference is given to minorities.
Q: With no candidates, campaigning or nominations, how do delegates know who to vote for?
A: Delegates have the freedom to vote for any Baha’i residing in the United States who is 21 or older. The Baha’i writings encourage them to select “those who can best combine the necessary qualities of unquestioned loyalty, of selfless devotion, of a well-trained mind, of recognized ability and mature experience.” Once elected at the unit convention, delegates make ongoing efforts to take note of the services of others, especially those who serve with humility, love and effectiveness.
Q: How are election results reported?
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.