Emails show a top city director emailed Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson’s former chief of staff a newly created internal security policy, hours before she used it to challenge the city’s April 4 election.
The batch of internal emails shows that on April 11, the Information Technology Department director, Marc Dahl, sent former chief of staff Sami Graham the policy language and told her that it was published to the city’s intranet on the internal IT security web page. They also show that IT staff published the policy statement to the internal web page on April 11 at Dahl’s direction.
It was increasingly obvious that the election was not favoring conservative Assembly candidates when Graham filed an initial complaint, and then when she and two other election observers appealed a few days later on April 11, quoting the new IT policy in an apparent challenge to the city election. The election results ultimately left a moderate-to-progressive Assembly majority in place, which would continue to hold a check on Bronson’s power.
The incident has been the subject of an investigation by the city ombudsman, who received a complaint from someone after the person heard Graham speak during the Public Session of Canvass in May. In a July 5 letter, Anchorage Assembly leaders pressed the mayor for answers about the incident and are holding a public meeting Friday to discuss the election complaint.
The emails showing Dahl’s correspondence with Graham were sent to the Assembly chair by city officials on Monday in response to a public records request.
It’s not clear why Dahl emailed Graham — a member of the public — the internal IT Department policy. It’s also not clear whether Dahl knew that Graham and two other election observers would quote verbatim the policy in the appeal they filed with the city election clerk about an hour later. Graham resigned as Bronson’s chief of staff in 2021.
The policy, added just days after the election workers began tallying results, would require the IT department to authorize use of USB drives on city equipment, which Graham and the observers asserted would include the election center’s equipment.
A previous report from the Daily News made public the incident, revealing that Dahl had quietly added the policy on the same day that Graham and the two other observers used it.
Assembly Chair Christopher Constant on Tuesday said that the emails prove that Dahl gave Graham the internal policy — and they raise many more questions about what sort of coordination Dahl, Graham and the election observers engaged in, he said.
In their appeal, the observers claimed election staff violated the policy. They asserted that USB drives used by election staff to transfer tabulation results could be intentionally or unintentionally altering data, “thereby nullifying the results of the election.”
Security camera footage from the election center revealed that Dahl met with one of the observers, John Henry, at the election center the day after they filed the appeal. Footage showed Dahl and Henry leaving the building.
“Exactly why was Marc sharing internal policies with members of the public who were actively in the process of making arguments that laws or policies had been violated sufficient enough to overturn the outcome of an election?” Constant said. “Why did Marc attempt to help a member of the public create a false narrative that, as the documents themselves state, they believe they’re sufficient enough to overturn the outcome of an election?”
“You’ve got, literally, a municipal executive partnering with a member of the public to introduce information that is not true, but argue that it’s sufficient to overturn an election. That is just — that’s a lot. It’s very, very serious,” Constant said.
The mayor’s office did not respond to emailed questions and a request for an interview on Tuesday. Graham did not return a phone call from the Daily News.
The city clerk, ombudsman and other top city staff members have said the IT department policy statement is not a valid policy — it did not go through the city’s required process for developing and adding municipality-wide policies before it appeared on the internal network page. City staff, including the election clerk and other department leaders, had been unaware of its existence at the time Graham and the others filed their appeal.
At the time of the Daily News’ initial report, Dahl said he decided to add the policy to the department’s intranet page because the city had a “longstanding practice of prohibiting the use of thumb drives without being scanned by IT first.” He did not answer several questions, including about how the observers obtained the policy language. He did not answer questions about his relationship with the observers or why he met Henry at the election center.
The mayor’s office didn’t respond to questions about Dahl’s employment status. Dahl was still employed by the city as IT department director as of mid-June, according to a previous statement from the mayor’s office. The July 5 letter to Bronson from Assembly leaders was also sent to acting IT department director Philippe Brice, along with other top executives.
Ombudsman Darrel Hess said his investigation is ongoing and he has not reached a conclusion. Hess is preparing for Friday’s meeting a documented timeline of the incident based on public records gathered so far, such as the emails, he said.
The newly released emails also show a second communication from Dahl to Graham. On April 14, Dahl sent Graham a brief email alerting her to a proposed change to city code scheduled for consideration at the following Assembly meeting.
Graham filed another appeal to the election clerk that day, April 14, based on the proposed ordinance Dahl emailed her about.
She claimed that the measure, which had been introduced by Constant, was a direct response to her April 11 appeal. Constant at the time was a candidate winning reelection.
Graham also reiterated her claims that the clerk’s office was in “direct violation” of the IT department’s USB policy and that the USB devices used by election staff could be changing data, “thereby nullifying the results of the election.”
Graham withdrew that challenge two days later, after then-election clerk Jamie Heinz emailed her information and documents showing that the measure had actually been introduced by Constant at a special meeting several days before Graham’s April 11 appeal. (Heinz is now the municipal clerk, taking over from retired clerk Barbara Jones.)
During the April 18 Assembly meeting, members indefinitely postponed consideration of the ordinance, effectively killing the measure. It would have specified that the Assembly chair or membership determines when mayoral directives and internal policies apply to the Assembly branch — which includes the city election center.