Explaining Incumbency in Baha’i Elections

Alison was kind enough to rummage through the archives of Talisman and forward me a brilliant post from more than 10 years ago which explains the incumbency inherent in Baha’i elections. I’ve changed a few things here and there but for the most part, I can not take credit for what follows. I wish to share it with you because it is a clear and lucid explanation of what is going on within our communities:

*** *** ***

The following presents a specific hypothetical scenario to illustrate how incumbency can not only occur but be the default within Baha’i elections.

First the assumptions:

  1. No spoilt ballots/votes – in other words, all votes and ballots are accepted and correct
  2. Each voter uses 3 of their votes on existing Assembly members
  3. Among the Assembly members there is no clear voter preference, that is to say, the voter randomly uses 3 votes on any 3 current Assembly members
  4. The remaining 6 votes are randomly cast for non-Assembly members

In our scenario there are 100 community members, 100 ballots and 900 total votes. Of these, following the assumptions above, 300 go towards incumbents and the remaining 600 to non-incumbents.

The catch comes when we realize that those 300 votes have been randomly distributed within 9 people, while the 600 votes were distributed within 91 people.

  • Average # Votes for Incumbent: 300 ? 9 = 33.3
  • Average # Votes for Non-Incumbent: 600 ? 91 = 6.6

With these types of odds its quite clear that the Assembly will most likely remain the same unless:

  • Voters are adverse to particular Assembly members
  • Voters are extremly keen on one non-incumbent

Paradoxically, the problem gets worse the larger the community is and much less in smaller communities. The key is the ratio of the non-incumbents to the ratio of incumbents. Where the LSA members are a significant share of the community (small localities) the ratio is much more even than in larger communities.

For example, in a 20 member community, holding all above assumptions the same, we have a total of 180 votes:

  • Avg. Votes per Incumbent: 60 ? 9 = 6.7
  • Avg. Votes per non-Incumbent: 120 ? 11 = 10.9

Interestingly enough, in the small community, with the same parameters there is actually an anti-incumbency bias.

However if we extend the size of the community to say 1000, under our stated assumptions, incumbency is virtually guaranteed. We would have 3000 votes distributed among 9 people and the remaining 6000 within the other 991.

Anecdotal evidence of the Assembly voting dynamic is that almost everyone who is eligible to receive votes, does. Most everyone expends 3-4 votes on existing LSA members, however there is rarely a strong preference for one LSA member over another. This type of voting behaviour is similar to that implied by the above assumptions.

So how can we address the inherent incumbency bias within medium and large Baha’i communities? What adjustments and changes can we make to the Baha’i election process?

By the way, before I go further, let me address what some Baha’is fallaciously believe: that no changes, whatsoever, can be made to Baha’i elections. Shoghi Effendi and Abdu’l-Baha outlined principles and elements of Baha’i Administration. They did not create a straight-jacket. In fact, they both left things to be determined and tweaked in the fullness of time.

Just because “we don’t do things that way” doesn’t mean that we can’t. Change is tough. We all hate change. But guess what? That’s what life is all about.

So please, be aware that the changes and ideas that I am suggesting are in keeping with the principles of the Faith. Whether they are ultimately implemented or not is up to the House of Justice as the administrative and legislative authority within the Faith. But there is no question that such adaptations are necessary and vital.

Especially when we can see clear signs that the current situation is causing stagnation, ossification and group think, dragging the community down.

(to be continued)

  • Stefan Back

    The recently elected Local Spiritual Assembly in Umea in Sweden
    used this year a new vote system when we should dispense the internal officials in the Assembly for 164 B.E. We are calling it the 3-2-1-tmethod, and the inspiration comes from how The Universal House Of Justice is selected.

    Earlier years have everybody of the 9 written one name for e.g. who they want to see as chairman. This system has regularly resulted in a draw (3 – 3), and then we have been forced to vote again, maybe several times. Then it has been the same problem when voting of cashier, secretary, and so on. It has been very time consuming.

    This year we used ballot papers with the 9 names, and one should give 3 points to the most preferably as chairman, 2 points to the second preferably and 1 point to the person one could prefer as chairman in third hand. When the Assembly vote chairman, an individual can get maximum 27 points (9 X 3). And it is consequently enough with 14 points to get majority and become chosen.

    When we then voted for secretary, eight assembly members were left to vote for. In this case an individual can get maximum 24 (3X8) points. For majority it is enough with 13 points.

    With this 3-2-1-method we did not have to do any re-votings. The voting procedure this year went fast and convenient and the results were clear and indisputable.

  • Stefan Back

    The recently elected Local Spiritual Assembly in Umea in Sweden
    used this year a new vote system when we should dispense the internal officials in the Assembly for 164 B.E. We are calling it the 3-2-1-tmethod, and the inspiration comes from how The Universal House Of Justice is selected.

    Earlier years have everybody of the 9 written one name for e.g. who they want to see as chairman. This system has regularly resulted in a draw (3 – 3), and then we have been forced to vote again, maybe several times. Then it has been the same problem when voting of cashier, secretary, and so on. It has been very time consuming.

    This year we used ballot papers with the 9 names, and one should give 3 points to the most preferably as chairman, 2 points to the second preferably and 1 point to the person one could prefer as chairman in third hand. When the Assembly vote chairman, an individual can get maximum 27 points (9 X 3). And it is consequently enough with 14 points to get majority and become chosen.

    When we then voted for secretary, eight assembly members were left to vote for. In this case an individual can get maximum 24 (3X8) points. For majority it is enough with 13 points.

    With this 3-2-1-method we did not have to do any re-votings. The voting procedure this year went fast and convenient and the results were clear and indisputable.

  • Sincere Friend

    Hi Stefan,

    That is a very clever system you have in Sweden. It must have saved lots of time, very important in your culture I know.

    We have a different culture and we like to spend time with each other so we used the old system and had lots of fun. We almost ran out of paper though.

    Nice to know we can all be flexible and conform a procedure to our particular cultures.

    I really am not making fun of you, it is just a humorous contrast that I could not resist pointing out.

  • Sincere Friend

    Hi Stefan,

    That is a very clever system you have in Sweden. It must have saved lots of time, very important in your culture I know.

    We have a different culture and we like to spend time with each other so we used the old system and had lots of fun. We almost ran out of paper though.

    Nice to know we can all be flexible and conform a procedure to our particular cultures.

    I really am not making fun of you, it is just a humorous contrast that I could not resist pointing out.

  • Sincere Friend

    The numbers are very interesting and from that alone one might guess that there is always the same people on the assemblies, but it has been my experience that that is not so to the degree that it would appear to be in your example, many more factors(people moving in or out, health problems, school involvements, appointments to other bodies, etc.) intervene to create a greater turnover than one might expect from a purely abstract example.

    True the NSAs of some countries seems to follow this pattern but the aspect of a republican voting process by delegates is different than a direct democratic vote from a community. It would seem that some factor associated with how the convetions are conducted would probably influence the delegates more than anything. Perhaps that is where to apply the change in the manner of the conduct of the conventions so that no bias is implied by any act of contact or communication that the incumbent members have with the delegates rather than in a rule based solution of imposing term limits. Really it seems to me the convetion ought to be conducted by the delegates, it would seem more in keeping with a truly democratic electoral process. Some one person elected from the delegates themselves who would chair the convention until a new NSA is elected. Of course then that person would probably get elected to the NSA because they are in front of the audience but at least you would have some new blood.

    One could imagine the prayers being read by children not related to seated members who would obviously not be elegible, and the voting and chair of the convention could likewise be done by someone from another country or a foreign Continental Counselor who would not be elegiable to be elected. Reports could be presented after the vote, as I think they are now, and possibly without reference to a person only to an office.

    Just rambling suggestions, but I dont think it is something that would benefit by a forced rule change but by something more organic in the culture of how things are done…but essentially in some way that removes all possible advantage of influence or the communication of bias: positive or negative.

    Maybe have a youth committee organize the national convention! There have been some memorable convetions organized mostly by Youth.

  • Sincere Friend

    The numbers are very interesting and from that alone one might guess that there is always the same people on the assemblies, but it has been my experience that that is not so to the degree that it would appear to be in your example, many more factors(people moving in or out, health problems, school involvements, appointments to other bodies, etc.) intervene to create a greater turnover than one might expect from a purely abstract example.

    True the NSAs of some countries seems to follow this pattern but the aspect of a republican voting process by delegates is different than a direct democratic vote from a community. It would seem that some factor associated with how the convetions are conducted would probably influence the delegates more than anything. Perhaps that is where to apply the change in the manner of the conduct of the conventions so that no bias is implied by any act of contact or communication that the incumbent members have with the delegates rather than in a rule based solution of imposing term limits. Really it seems to me the convetion ought to be conducted by the delegates, it would seem more in keeping with a truly democratic electoral process. Some one person elected from the delegates themselves who would chair the convention until a new NSA is elected. Of course then that person would probably get elected to the NSA because they are in front of the audience but at least you would have some new blood.

    One could imagine the prayers being read by children not related to seated members who would obviously not be elegible, and the voting and chair of the convention could likewise be done by someone from another country or a foreign Continental Counselor who would not be elegiable to be elected. Reports could be presented after the vote, as I think they are now, and possibly without reference to a person only to an office.

    Just rambling suggestions, but I dont think it is something that would benefit by a forced rule change but by something more organic in the culture of how things are done…but essentially in some way that removes all possible advantage of influence or the communication of bias: positive or negative.

    Maybe have a youth committee organize the national convention! There have been some memorable convetions organized mostly by Youth.

  • http://www.bahairants.com Baquia

    Stefan,
    brilliant example of Swedish practicality. Can you please bottle it and sell it to the rest of the Baha’i world? or perhaps, take it apart, put it in a brown box with instructions and send it over with instructions on how to put it together?

    8)

    On a serious note, I’m curious what you mean by “inspiration comes from how The Universal House of Justice is selected”. Do you mean that this is how their portfolios are allocated?

  • http://www.bahairants.com Baquia

    Stefan,
    brilliant example of Swedish practicality. Can you please bottle it and sell it to the rest of the Baha’i world? or perhaps, take it apart, put it in a brown box with instructions and send it over with instructions on how to put it together?

    8)

    On a serious note, I’m curious what you mean by “inspiration comes from how The Universal House of Justice is selected”. Do you mean that this is how their portfolios are allocated?

  • http://www.bahairants.com Baquia

    SF, I don’t know about that. It seems that the UHJ/ITC have to approve the conventions and their agenda from now on. What you are suggesting is individual initiative, a road that we all know leads to chaos and madness! We need top down micro-management the way the Soviets planned their economy.

    Pricing potatoes by committee worked so well for them. I’m sure that the Baha’i equivalent of Ruhi and top down enforced rigidity will be as successful.

    Onwards and upwards Comrade!

  • http://www.bahairants.com Baquia

    SF, I don’t know about that. It seems that the UHJ/ITC have to approve the conventions and their agenda from now on. What you are suggesting is individual initiative, a road that we all know leads to chaos and madness! We need top down micro-management the way the Soviets planned their economy.

    Pricing potatoes by committee worked so well for them. I’m sure that the Baha’i equivalent of Ruhi and top down enforced rigidity will be as successful.

    Onwards and upwards Comrade!

  • http://www.bahairants.com Baquia

    Keep in mind that this is a hypothetical model or approximation of reality. We can never really know exactly what goes on in each community nor can we understand why certain people get elected or not. As all models, it does have flaws. But the point of a model is to bring about discussion and foment reflection.

    So rather than picking apart the model or criticising its weaknesses – which I’m the first to admit are many – we would be more effective to consult on the consequences and implications of the community dynamic it outlines.

  • http://www.bahairants.com Baquia

    Keep in mind that this is a hypothetical model or approximation of reality. We can never really know exactly what goes on in each community nor can we understand why certain people get elected or not. As all models, it does have flaws. But the point of a model is to bring about discussion and foment reflection.

    So rather than picking apart the model or criticising its weaknesses – which I’m the first to admit are many – we would be more effective to consult on the consequences and implications of the community dynamic it outlines.

  • Stefan Back

    All??h-u-Abh??

    No, I think that our meetings take the same time as everywhere else. It’s only the Local Spiritual Assembly’s internal voting which takes less time. This time we can spend on other bah??’? activities.

    In Umea, a town with 120.000 inhabitants in north Sweden, the local bah??’? society contains 50% Swedish and 50% born somewhere else in the world. So the culture of our bah??’? society is international, not Swedish.

    I wish you a future in harmony!

    Stefan Bavk

  • Stefan Back

    All??h-u-Abh??

    No, I think that our meetings take the same time as everywhere else. It’s only the Local Spiritual Assembly’s internal voting which takes less time. This time we can spend on other bah??’? activities.

    In Umea, a town with 120.000 inhabitants in north Sweden, the local bah??’? society contains 50% Swedish and 50% born somewhere else in the world. So the culture of our bah??’? society is international, not Swedish.

    I wish you a future in harmony!

    Stefan Bavk

  • Stefan Back

    Hi

    I think I’ve been informed about a 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-system. But I don’t know if this is when the nine in UHJ are elected by the members of the concent OR if it is a system used in the internal voting UHJ do later to elect chairman, etc.

    I am sure I have been reading about this in a book about bah??’? elections. Maybe they used it only once. I have to find the book and read about this again.

    Mesme sol pro tote le homines!
    Mesme terra pro tote le homines!
    Mesme Deo pro tote le homines!
    Mesme Fide pro tote le homines!

    Stefan Back

  • Stefan Back

    Hi

    I think I’ve been informed about a 9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1-system. But I don’t know if this is when the nine in UHJ are elected by the members of the concent OR if it is a system used in the internal voting UHJ do later to elect chairman, etc.

    I am sure I have been reading about this in a book about bah??’? elections. Maybe they used it only once. I have to find the book and read about this again.

    Mesme sol pro tote le homines!
    Mesme terra pro tote le homines!
    Mesme Deo pro tote le homines!
    Mesme Fide pro tote le homines!

    Stefan Back

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  • AmadodeDios

    Another reason favoring incumbency is laziness – the equivalent of calling for the re-election of the poor devil who has been president or whatever for years now, by acclamation. We are usually even too lazy to give the voting any real thought (and there they are, listed, to re-elect) but there is also the safety that, if it's the same old bunch, I can continue doing nothing!

  • Farhan

    AmadodeDios, contrary to political issues, it is not by changing those serving on institutions that the spiritual level of the community will necessarily evolve or that the UHJ will elucidate teachings differently differ from what is done now. There is confusion here between a religious structure which refers to a revealed teaching and political structures inspired by different philosphies, where by changing a candidate we change the political outlook of a country. If the “poor devil” who has been serving as a chairman for years is no longer in a position to chair in tune with our teachings, he will be changed. If he remains, it is that his experience is still valued above that of other new-comers.

  • Baquia

    AdD, laziness on the part of the community you mean. Yes, that is part of it. The status quo is a pretty strong force. We see it in nature as well. Objects at rest stay at rest, etc. (Newton's Laws). I'm hoping that fellow Baha'is realize that incumbency isn't just because of laziness though. It is an inherent characteristic built into the current system. The good news that there is no reason we can't improve the system.

  • Craig Parke

    Farhan, the UHJ has brilliantly declared that the Faith must use top down straight jacketed methods that will cause the Faith to completely fail and go bankrupt in every land and every culture on Earth. No decisions as to how the Faith is taught can be decided locally anywhere on Earth. No individual is free to experiment or think outside the box in any way. Everyone must pimp for the Ruhi Full Sequence of Courses to recruit people and then indoctrinate them so they will carry out the Plan as worldwide automatons devoid of any personal insight or initiative or creativity in any other direction. People must learn the rote answers and repeat them on command like trained seals. Any effort in any other direction that would be successful must ultimately be bent to this final base line purpose in the Faith.

    It is not going to work because it is completely against the Teachings of Baha'u'llah. It is profoundly against the new liberated energies of the new World Age. The new World Age is about the independent investigation of truth by individuals as completely free peoples. It is not about turning your soul over to someone else to do your thinking for you. people who require a person to do that are in the role of “clergy”. Clergy is forbidden in the World Age. The theorist class “high school” teachers in the Baha'i Faith who have appointed themselves to do this can go to hell. And they will in world history. They are so spiritually blind that they do not see the archetypal judgment they have brought upon themselves. They are amazingly clueless people. Their descendants one and all to a man and to a woman will curse them for what they did to the Baha'i faith. They personally stopped 7,000 years of human spiritual evolution within the community of Baha'u'llah. It is embarrassing. So the great power to effect real grass roots change in the world is now going to other peoples and other spiritual communities worldwide who will now steal the cosmic thunder that once belonged to the Baha'is. It is going to people who can think and act on their own while the Baha'i Faith is in spiritual and intellectual chains. It is going to peoples of free inquiry and exploration. Each hour that passes is an hour that the Baha'is fall further and further behind. Financial collapse will come because a Top Down Theocracy of Dunces is just not going to cut it in the new World Age.

    This was all foretold spiritually by Baha'u'llah in the Tablet of the Holy Mariner. Baha'u'llah has nothing whatsoever to do with the Baha'i Faith now. They made Shoghi Effendi the Supreme Manifestation of God for this World Age because it was much easier for people who have zero spirituality to have that as a “Faith”. There is nothing that can be done now. It will be fatal.

    A perfect example is your own family. If the Baha'is were the clear choice for progressive Persian-French souls to improve the world, then why did your wife and daughters never join the Faith themselves? The answer is that no spiritually progressive person on Earth would ever join or stay in the hapless spiritual Communist Party system of entrenched lifeless top down brain chemistry that the Baha'i Faith has become. It could have all gone in another direction if the tiny top down lifetime incumbent clique would have stayed with the Teachings of Baha'u'llah.

    Anyone in the Baha'i Faith of today in 2009 who thinks differently (even people like me who devotedly served the Faith with everything I had for 32 straight years up until 2004) is now declared the “Enemy of God” if they do not support the top down Comintern and would be burned at the stake by these people if they ever came into any real power in the world. It is the same old, same old in human history. Couldn't we have achieved something far better if the Faith could have been allowed to develop bottom up?

    So it goes.

  • Farhan

    Baquia, what improvement would you suggest?

  • Farhan

    Craig wrote : the UHJ has brilliantly declared that the Faith must use top down straight jacketed methods that will cause the Faith to completely fail and go bankrupt in every land and every culture on Earth. …. (Etc, etc… )

    Craig, this comes straight out of your nightmares and has absolutely no basis in reality. It is an urgent priority to provide a simplified and well defined curriculum for those who wish to participate in teaching large numbers, but curriculum s in no way binding on others. When you build schools, this does not exclude individual tutorship. As to my family, I have no right to discuss their position online.

  • Craig Parke

    Farhan,

    The lifetime incumbent class currently leading the Baha'i Faith are all now completely mentally ill people submerged in a clique of deranged lock step groupthink. More than ten years of service in the AO makes people radioactive. This is the entire pattern of the AO since the Chicago reading room fiasco in 1912. It is a recurring pattern. Terminal clique groupthink to catastrophe has happened over and over.

    The current plans and methodologies are NOT cosmically spiritual in any way whatsoever and will fail miserably. The Kingdom of God will now go to other peoples and other spiritual communities who can operate on individual initiative and insight.

    It is a great tragedy. But it is what has happened. The US NSA made a last honest attempt at sanity in the Ridvan 2007 Convention Report. It was dismissed out of hand by the top down ITC Faith apparatus incestuous clique that now completely owns the Baha'i Faith and runs it as they see fit lock, stock, and barrel. It will all continue to fail because it is not one wit spiritual and is against the very Spirit of the World Age. It is all now a zero sum game of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic run by completely deranged mentally ill people. The Plan itself is now one of the greatest systems of idolatry ever conceived in any so called “religion”. Mindless soul killing automaton groupthink is NOTspirituality of any kind. Nothing can be done. These people will now serve forever answering to no one and will be replaced by hand picked, ideologically pre-screened people on the closed candidate list who will answer to no one. This is the fate of the Baha'i Faith. No one can do a thing now but weep. It is just a huge predatory system to make “converts” so the lifetime administrative incumbent class at the top can sleep well at night thinking their lives weren't a complete waste of time. But their lives were.

    You have every right not to discuss your family publicly on line. But there is the simple truth of the matter for everyone. No one's friends and family on the entire planet Earth is being influenced by the sorry methods by which the Faith now obsessively tries to make converts of marks singled out for aggressive predatory attack because it is all of completely zero spirituality.

    So it goes.

  • Farhan

    Craig wrote : But there is the simple truth of the matter for everyone. No one's friends and family on the entire planet Earth is being influenced by the sorry methods by which the Faith now obsessively tries to make converts

    Craig, before the institute process hardly half of kids in Baha’i families enrolled as we were totally lacking structures that could convey the Baha’i way of life to our youth. This has obviously changed now and friends, relatives and neighbours participate in activities around the revealed word, and we are awaiting statistics. As to the remainder of your message I disagree to the point that no reply seems possible.

  • Craig Parke

    Farhan,

    The lifetime incumbent class currently leading the Baha'i Faith are all now completely mentally ill people submerged in a clique of deranged lock step groupthink. More than ten years of service in the AO makes people radioactive. This is the entire pattern of the AO since the Chicago reading room fiasco in 1912. It is a recurring pattern. Terminal clique groupthink to catastrophe has happened over and over.

    The current plans and methodologies are NOT cosmically spiritual in any way whatsoever and will fail miserably. The Kingdom of God will now go to other peoples and other spiritual communities who can operate on individual initiative and insight.

    It is a great tragedy. But it is what has happened. The US NSA made a last honest attempt at sanity in the Ridvan 2007 Convention Report. It was dismissed out of hand by the top down ITC Faith apparatus incestuous clique that now completely owns the Baha'i Faith and runs it as they see fit lock, stock, and barrel. It will all continue to fail because it is not one wit spiritual and is against the very Spirit of the World Age. It is all now a zero sum game of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic run by completely deranged mentally ill people. The Plan itself is now one of the greatest systems of idolatry ever conceived in any so called “religion”. Mindless soul killing automaton groupthink is NOTspirituality of any kind. Nothing can be done. These people will now serve forever answering to no one and will be replaced by hand picked, ideologically pre-screened people on the closed candidate list who will answer to no one. This is the fate of the Baha'i Faith. No one can do a thing now but weep. It is just a huge predatory system to make “converts” so the lifetime administrative incumbent class at the top can sleep well at night thinking their lives weren't a complete waste of time. But their lives were.

    You have every right not to discuss your family publicly on line. But there is the simple truth of the matter for everyone. No one's friends and family on the entire planet Earth is being influenced by the sorry methods by which the Faith now obsessively tries to make converts of marks singled out for aggressive predatory attack because it is all of completely zero spirituality.

    So it goes.

  • farhan

    Craig wrote : But there is the simple truth of the matter for everyone. No one's friends and family on the entire planet Earth is being influenced by the sorry methods by which the Faith now obsessively tries to make converts

    Craig, before the institute process hardly half of kids in Baha’i families enrolled as we were totally lacking structures that could convey the Baha’i way of life to our youth. This has obviously changed now and friends, relatives and neighbours participate in activities around the revealed word, and we are awaiting statistics. As to the remainder of your message I disagree to the point that no reply seems possible.

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