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WSESD mailing raises concerns about data used

Dummerston resident questions strategy of not using municipal records for communications

DUMMERSTON—Resident Erich Kruger was surprised when he received a postcard from the Windham Southeast School District (WSESD) at his Hill Road home — addressed to someone who has never lived in the house in the 22 years he has been there since building it in 2000.

“We do get junk mail from random people and that name has never shown up on anything else,” Kruger said Tuesday of the mailing announcing the March 1 Annual Town Meeting and Election.

He then contacted Town Clerk Laurie Frechette.

“I am very concerned that this seems to indicate the town voter rolls are wrong,” Kruger wrote. “In this polarized time, I feel this error needs to be addressed on a level higher than individual complaints such as mine.”

“How is your office planning to handle this error?” Kruger asked.

Frechette confirmed the postcards were sent from the WSESD via Howard Printing in Brattleboro.

“Unfortunately, the printer used a list from some company that I’ve never heard of instead of using the statewide voter checklist,” she replied. “This is very disturbing to me as town clerk because it just exacerbates the theory of ‘voter fraud.’”

The Commons confirmed that in at least one commercial public records database, the name on Kruger’s postcard is associated with his address, though when searched in the same database, records do not indicate any connections to Dummerston.

Who gets the mailing?

WSESD Executive Secretary Barb Nowakowski explained that when the newly merged WSESD organized on Feb. 27, 2019, registered voters present at the meeting voted, pursuant to state law, to authorize a mailed notice to residents of member towns (Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford, and Putney) about the availability of annual reports and proposed budgets in lieu of distributing reports and budgets to all.

Subsequently, town clerks in those respective towns asked that information about registering to vote and requesting absentee ballots also be included.

Historically, Nowakowski said, these notices were sent to all mailboxes, not just those of registered voters, and did not include people’s names but rather were addressed “all postal customers.”

“This year we changed local vendors for the mailing,” Nowakowski said. “And rather than processing a general ’all postal customer’ mailer, they used a database of names and addresses in our district ZIP codes.”

She said the database used for the mailing came from AccuData Integrated Marketing, a Florida-based mail list vendor, whose “resident/occupant data” list uses data directly from the USPS.

“That company also uses NCOA [National Change of Address] to update its lists,” she said in correspondence with Kruger. “NCOA is a data set containing approximately 160 million permanent change-of-address records from across the country filed with the USPS in the last 48 months.

“Be assured that at no time was any voter registration mailing list used to compile the information in this database or this mailing. All of the data was from the USPS.”

Nowakowski told The Commons that the District intends to stick with Howard despite the difficulties with this mailing.

“I’ve had a conversation with them and they’re going to look at the database through their supplier,” Nowakowski said.

Then, next year, “we’ll go the route of an ‘all postal customer’ type of mailing,” she added.

“They say they didn’t use a voter list, but pretty much everyone who gets it will think it’s a voter list,” Kruger said. “I think they did something stupid and it didn’t work. I’m confident there’s no fraud, but in this day of political divisiveness, I can see someone saying, ‘My god, there’s somebody registered to vote in my house.’”

“Fortunately, we live in a small enough town that most of the people on the voting rolls are personally known to the Town Clerk,” Kruger added. “That’s not always the case.”

Annual report ready, information hearing set

The WSESD annual report will be ready Friday, Feb. 28 at the Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford, and Putney town offices and the WSESU Central Office, 53 Green Street, Brattleboro.

This material, plus the district audit, warrant articles, and sample ballot, are posted on the district website at bit.ly/651-wsesd-vote.

A public informational hearing about the proposed fiscal year 2023 operating and capital budget will be held Thursday, Feb. 24 meeting at 6 p.m. via Zoom. Join the meeting at bit.ly/651-wsesd-info.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #651 (Wednesday, February 16, 2022). This story appeared on page A1.

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