The Anchorage Assembly heard testimony Friday from two of the four people it subpoenaed to discuss an election challenge filed earlier this year. It’s the first time the two — Sami Graham and Daniel Smith — have spoken publicly about the complaint, which has prompted concern among Assembly members about whether city officials are interfering with elections.
Graham, former chief of staff to Mayor Dave Bronson, told the Assembly she wasn’t trying to overturn the election results when she filed her complaint. Graham’s complaint cited an unvetted policy sent to her by the city’s IT director, Marc Dahl. The policy had to do with the use of USB drives to transfer election information, and Graham said she assumed it was a legitimate policy.
“I read the whole policy,” Graham said. “It was from the IT director. I took it at his word that that was the policy.”
Graham and her attorney both attended Friday’s meeting at City Hall, called by Assembly members who have said they need more information about what led up to her complaint. In a rare move earlier this month, the Assembly activated its subpoena powers to get answers.
Already, the city ombudsman has concluded that Dahl sent Graham the complaint to impact the election, and Dahl has since resigned. As an election observer, Graham filed her complaint on April 11, the same day that Dahl sent her the policy she cited.
Assembly Chair Chris Constant said the purpose of questioning Graham Friday was not to implicate her in a crime. It was so the Assembly could get information on how to better update its election laws.
“None of it is intended to be inquisitorial,” Constant said. “This is not called an investigation. It’s an inquiry as we move forward towards our Title 28 and other code changes.”
During the meeting, Graham’s attorney, Bill Ingaldson, emphasized that Graham wasn’t trying to change the results of the election.
“It never says anything in here about overturning the election, does it?” Ingaldson asked.
“Not at all,” Graham responded.
“And in fact, it actually is a recommendation that some sort of procedure, like it sounds like the Assembly is doing now be adopted to ensure the integrity of these thumb drives, right?” Ingaldson continued.
“Right,” Graham answered.
The Assembly also subpoenaed two other election observers who signed on to the complaint, as well as Dahl. One of the other observers, Daniel Smith, provided testimony, stating that he only heard of the IT policy through Graham.
“I was told by Miss Graham, she found it,” Smith said. “And therefore, had no reason to doubt it.”
Dahl and the other subpoenaed observer, John Henry, did not show up to Friday’s meeting. Their attorneys said they needed more time to prepare for the Assembly’s questions.
After the meeting, Constant said he looked forward to hearing more testimony surrounding the challenge. Elections are run through the city clerk’s office, which is meant to be nonpartisan. He said he’s concerned at the implication that a mayoral appointee, like Dahl, could impact an election.
“We have to figure out how to buffer and secure the elections from that kind of influence,” Constant said. ” And hopefully, you know, we never have this again, or in the next 10 years, we don’t see any repeat of this.”
He said he’s concerned that similar challenges have been levied across the country to sow doubt in the election process.
“This is a national campaign to create a lack of faith in our electoral processes,” Constant said. “From the presidency, and the run for the U.S. president right on down to local elections across the country. So I’m really glad we’re here looking closely at our policies to make sure that kind of abuse never happens again.”
He said the Assembly will likely hear testimony from the other people it subpoenaed in the near future.