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Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe Cannot Proceed with Mail-in Election

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A judge with the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe says the tribe cannot proceed with a mail-in election that was planned for March 26.

Judge Amanda White Eagle issued a ruling Thursday, finding that a mail-in-only election violates the tribe's constitution.

Plaintiffs in the case are calling this a win for transparency and for fair and free elections.

"It's a great morning knowing we can go into an election, handling it the way we've always handled elections in our tribe, and that is you come into the heart of Mashpee to cast your ballot," said Carleton Hendricks, a member of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal council.

The tribal council voted earlier this year to hold the election exclusively through the mail, citing concerns about the coronavirus.

Council member Aaron Tobey is one of three plaintiffs in the lawsuit. He says he filed the lawsuit because the tribe's constitution forbids elections to be held through the mail.

“Tribal council is not above the law, and as elected officials, we have the duty to do the right thing," he said. "And mail-in voting is not the right thing.”

Tobey says that he and Hendricks were the only two members of the tribal council to vote against the mail-in voting election when the proposal was put forward earlier this year.

The tribe’s constitution calls for elections to be held at designated sites, and defendants in the case argued that a US Postal box could suffice as a designated ballot box.

Judge Amanda White Eagle called that an example of “linguistic summersaults" in her ruling issued on Thursday.

The judge will hold a hearing Monday to discuss how and when voting will proceed.

Thursday's decision could be appealed.