Ombudsman refers investigation of Anchorage election challenge to state Office of Special Prosecutions, recommends firing IT director

The Anchorage ombudsman has referred to the state Office of Special Prosecutions the results of an investigation into a top city director’s involvement in a challenge to the April 4 city election. In the final investigation report, released Friday, ombudsman Darrel Hess said he “reasonably believes that there may have been a violation of state election statutes.”

Hess also recommended that the administration of Mayor Dave Bronson fire its Office of Information Technology director, Marc Dahl.

On April 11, Dahl instructed IT staff to publish an improperly created internal security policy to the city’s intranet on the internal IT security webpage. Dahl then emailed that policy to an election observer, Sami Graham, a former chief of staff to Bronson.

A few hours later, Graham and two other observers quoted that policy verbatim in a challenge to the city election. A report from the Daily News in May made public the incident.

Bronson’s office said Friday that Dahl is still employed by the city “but has been on administrative leave for several months.”

“The Mayor’s office is reviewing the investigative report thoroughly and will take all recommendations into consideration,” spokeswoman Veronica Hoxie said.

The mayor’s office did not answer questions about Bronson’s opinions or response to the new report.


In the investigation report, Hess concluded that “there is no way to dismiss the timeline of events as merely coincidental.”

In their April 11 appeal, Graham and the other observers claimed that city election staff members violated the internal policy posted by Dahl earlier that day. It would require the IT department to authorize use of USB drives on city equipment, which would include the election center’s equipment, the observers asserted. They claimed 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.”

“The timeline, and Dahl’s email to Graham demonstrate that Dahl was directing the development and posting of the policy to provide support for the impending election challenge,” Hess said. “As an executive with the Municipality, Dahl has an obligation to remain politically neutral in the performance of his official duties — an obligation that he failed to meet multiple times regarding Graham’s election challenge.”

The ombudsman also included in the report his own observations of the IT director’s behavior while in the city election center twice in 2022, saying that Dahl’s actions “demonstrate a pattern of behavior that is troubling.”

“His actions and inability to separate his personal political views from his role as an executive with the (Municipality of Anchorage) has damaged the reputation of OIT and has eroded the trust of (city) employees in the ability of OIT to be impartial and neutral,” Hess said in the report.

Hess began investigating the circumstances of the election challenge in May, after receiving a complaint from a person who heard Graham speak when the Anchorage Election Commission finalized results.

When Graham filed an initial complaint and then appealed on April 11, election results were showing conservative Assembly candidates trailing their opponents by wide margins. It was increasingly obvious the election would not swing back in their favor.

The election kept a moderate-to-progressive Assembly majority in place, which would continue to hold a check on Bronson’s power.

Three additional recommendations

The ombudsman reviewed more than 1,500 documents, including unredacted versions of internal emails in a previous report from the Daily News, policy documents, photos and videos, and spoke with IT staff, according to the investigation report.

Hess gave the administration a preliminary report on July 25.

In a response sent Thursday, Municipal Manager Kent Kohlhase and Chief of Staff Mario Bird said the administration is “supportive of the process” and “agrees that election integrity is critical to the legitimacy of the government and public trust.”

They did not comment on the recommendation to end Dahl’s employment, but said Dahl was sent a copy of the preliminary report on July 31.

Hess, in his report, gave the city three additional recommendations:

• That city code be changed to place the same rules the ombudsman is under for participating in city elections on all directors of municipal departments, utilities and enterprises — barring them from publicly endorsing or contributing to any candidate or campaign or engaging in any political or campaign activity.

• That the Assembly and administration together develop and implement in city code penalties for tampering or attempting to tamper with city elections.

• And that the administration require annual ethics training for all city employees.

The administration, in its response, agreed to work with the Assembly to address election tampering in city code. It will develop a policy or code change for personnel working on “critical infrastructure during elections, specifically addressing appropriate limitations on communication between such employees and public or partisan vote observers,” Bird and Kohlhase said in the response.


The administration also recommends all city employees get annual ethics training — including those working in the Assembly’s branch — they said, “to include proper interaction between municipal employees who work on critical election infrastructure and the public.”

Anchorage Assembly leaders have pressed the mayor for answers about the incident and pushed back on the administration’s decision to redact emails and documents.

During a July meeting about the incident, Kohlhase told Assembly members that he contacted law enforcement after learning about the circumstances. Bird acknowledged that the IT department’s publication of the policy was “improper.”

Bronson officials, in their response to the ombudsman, again acknowledged that Dahl used an improper process to add the IT policy — and said the administration intends to add a citywide policy to much of the same effect.

Hess, in his report, acknowledged that as a best practice, many government and private organizations have implemented policies similar to the one Dahl quietly posted to the IT department’s intranet.

IT department staff, in fall 2022, had discussed turning their department’s long-standing internal policy on USB drives into a citywide policy. A policy was drafted, but the conversation went dormant in January — until Dahl revived it on the morning of April 11, according to the report.

Graham signed into the election center 66 minutes after the policy had been posted at Dahl’s direction. Shortly afterward, she and the two other observers for then-Assembly candidate John Trueblood filed the complaint citing the policy word-for-word — at a time when only three city employees knew of the policy’s existence, the investigation found. Trueblood lost to Assembly Chair Chris Constant by a wide margin.

Security camera footage from the election center showed that Dahl met with one of the observers, John Henry, at the election center on April 12, the day after they filed the appeal. Footage showed Dahl and Henry leaving the building.


In May, Dahl told the Daily News that he decided to add the policy 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 at the time, 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.

Dahl has not responded to further emailed questions since then.

In his report, the ombudsman said he once considered filing a complaint with the Ethics Board against Dahl after observing the IT director discuss the city election and express political opinions to election observers last year — even though he was invited there by the city clerk in an official capacity as a municipal observer.

Later that year, during a test of election equipment, Dahl attended as a member of the public, but attempted to enter areas that are off-limits. After receiving several warnings from the clerk, when the clerk wasn’t looking, Dahl tried to take from the reception desk a lanyard that would allow its wearer greater access to the election center, Hess said in the report.

Graham resigned as Bronson’s chief of staff in 2021. She declined to comment on the matter when approached by a reporter after the meeting last month.

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Emily Goodykoontz

Emily Goodykoontz is a reporter covering Anchorage local government and general assignments. She previously covered breaking news at The Oregonian in Portland before joining ADN in 2020. Contact her at