Whenever a community of Baha'is develops in a locality, Baha'u'llah's teachings instruct them to establish certain institutions. Provided that there are at least nine adult Baha'is resident, they elect a local spiritual assembly. This body has the responsibility to spread the Baha'i Faith in its area of jurisdiction; to establish children's classes and study classes; to oversee Baha'i marriages and funerals; to organize holy day observances and the Nineteen-Day Feast; to arbitrate in disputes between Baha'is if called upon to do so; to represent the Baha'is in relations with the government; to protect the Baha'i Faith from attacks upon it; and to provide direction to the community. Its wider duties involve providing humanitarian assistance to the poor, sick, disabled, orphaned, and destitute. The members of these assemblies are called upon to have regard for the interests of the whole community and indeed for the people of the world in the decisions they make, rather than focusing on narrow parochial concerns.
All of the Baha'is in a country elect delegates who attend a national convention, which is at present held annually. Here the delegates elect nine individuals to form the national spiritual assembly. Any adult Baha'i in a country is eligible to be elected to this body. It has broadly the responsibilities in relation to a nation that the local assembly has over its locality.
Every five years, at present, the members of the National Spiritual Assemblies of the world come together to elect the Universal House of Justice, the supreme institution of the Baha'i world. This institution in based at the Baha'i World Centre in Haifa, Israel.
As well as directing the affairs of the Baha'i world at the international level and supervising the Baha'i interactions with international bodies, such as the United Nations, this body is empowered by Baha'u'llah's instructions to create laws in areas where he had not given laws. It has preferred, however, since its inauguration to lay out general spiritual principles concerning current issues—such as contraception, abortion, and euthanasia—and leave it to individual Baha'is to come to their own decisions about how to act in particular situations. According to the Baha'i scriptures, the Universal House of Justice is divinely and unerringly guided in carrying out these functions.
Baha'i elections have particular features that make them different from other elections. The formation of parties and interest groups are believed to negate the unity that Baha'is are trying to establish. Nomination of candidates and electioneering are therefore prohibited. Electors are called upon to vote by secret ballot for people of capacity and competence who have a well-trained mind, mature experience, and demonstrable spiritual qualities.