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:
- No spoilt ballots/votes – in other words, all votes and ballots are accepted and correct
- Each voter uses 3 of their votes on existing Assembly members
- 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
- 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)