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Let me… warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party. – George Washington
Do you vote for a party, or a person? Some people still vote a “straight ticket,” casting their ballot for members of a single political party. Those strongly partisan voters often care more about ideology than character—but Baha’is have a different approach.
You probably already know that Baha’is don’t participate in partisan politics—but how do Baha’is vote? How do Baha’is approach the fractious and often dis-unifying political process, with all of its bickering, pettiness and corruption, in a spiritual frame of mind while honoring the Baha’i goal of unity? What civic reasoning do Baha’is employ when it comes time to cast their ballots?
First of all, the Baha’i writings ask us to show honesty and loyalty to our governments:
Secondly, the Baha’i Faith, with its lack of clergy and its democratically-elected global administrative structure, exalts the benefits of participatory democracy:
Praise be to God that the chains of injustice and the fetters of the oppression of the Pharaohs of the earth and the despotic rulers of men have crumbled to dust, and the age of justice, equity, brotherhood and real democracy is inaugurated. Praise be to God that the crowns of the despots have fallen to the earth, and the thrones of the absolutists are shaken to the foundation. But the real diadems of glory and power and the royal seats of just governments and democratic institutions were raised high. – Abdu’l-Baha, Star of the West, Volume 6, pp. 111-112.
Third, Baha’is who live in democratic countries take the responsibility of voting very seriously:
Thou hast asked regarding the political affairs. In the United States it is necessary that the citizens shall take part in elections. This is a necessary matter and no excuse from it is possible… Now, as the government of America is a republican form of government, it is necessary that all the citizens shall take part in the elections of officers and take part in the affairs of the republic. – Abdu’l-Baha, from a 1907 letter to Thornton Chase, Tablets of Abdu’l-Baha, Volume 2, p. 342.
Fourth, Baha’is believe in universal suffrage—and have supported the right of women and minorities to vote long before most Western governments granted them that right:
At the time of elections the right to vote is the inalienable right of women, and the entrance of women into all human departments is an irrefutable and incontrovertible question. No soul can retard or prevent it. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 182-183.
Fifth, the Baha’i teachings encourage social activism and participation in the political process—as long as it can be accomplished without party affiliation or political partisanship:
…no vote cast or office undertaken, by a Baha’i should necessarily constitute acceptance, by the voter or office holder of the entire programme of any political party. No Baha’i can be regarded as either Republican or Democrat, as such. He is above all else, the supporter of the principles enunciated by Baha’u’llah with which, I am firmly convinced the programme of no political party is completely harmonious… – Shoghi Effendi, from a letter to the National Spiritual Assembly of the United States and Canada, January 26, 1933.
So, with those five underlying principles in mind, how do Baha’is actually vote?
Essentially, Baha’is approach the voting booth as true independents, casting their votes based on the character, qualities and qualifications of each candidate, rather than his or her party affiliation:
It remains for the individuals to so use their right to vote as to keep aloof from party politics, and always bear in mind that they are voting on the merits of the individual, rather than because he belongs to one party or another. The matter must be made perfectly clear to the individuals, who will be left free to exercise their discretion and judgment. – Shoghi Effendi, Principles of Baha’i Administration, p. 30.
While no particular candidate or political party completely matches every one of the Baha’i principles, what overall positions and policies do Baha’is strive to foster and support? This single sentence from Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian of the Baha’i Faith, summarizes the major Baha’i ideals Abdu’l-Baha advocated, and guides the vision of every Baha’i toward the future advent of a more divine polity:
The independent search after truth, unfettered by superstition or tradition; the oneness of the entire human race, the pivotal principle and fundamental doctrine of the Faith; the basic unity of all religions; the condemnation of all forms of prejudice, whether religious, racial, class or national; the harmony which must exist between religion and science; the equality of men and women, the two wings on which the bird of human kind is able to soar; the introduction of compulsory education; the adoption of a universal auxiliary language; the abolition of the extremes of wealth and poverty; the institution of a world tribunal for the adjudication of disputes between nations; the exaltation of work, performed in the spirit of service, to the rank of worship; the glorification of justice as the ruling principle in human society, and of religion as a bulwark for the protection of all peoples and nations; and the establishment of a permanent and universal peace as the supreme goal of all mankind — these stand out as the essential elements of that Divine polity which [Abdu’l-Baha] proclaimed to leaders of public thought as well as to the masses at large… – God Passes By, pp. 281-282.
Next: God, Politics and the Rise of the Independent Voter