Illinois Election Board chief on leave after reported extortion attempt

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Illinois' top election official has been put on leave.

The Illinois State Board of Elections voted unanimously to place its executive director, Steve Sandvoss, on paid administrative leave after he reported being the target of an online extortion attempt.

In a news release, the panel said it took the cautionary step, "out of an abundance of caution."

Sandvoss is the state's top election official and an attorney, with a law degree from DePaul.

Since 2015 he has overseen Illinois' vast election machinery from the agency's headquarters in Springfield, and previously-beginning in 2004, he was the election board's general legal counsel.

Sandvoss is on administrative leave for what authorities will only describe as an online extortion attempt that they claim appeared "typical of many such online scams."

Even with the timing of this before an election, state officials said in a press release, "there is no reason to believe that any election data or information has been compromised."

However, what prompted the alleged extortion attempt they will not disclose, nor will they discuss the nature of the communication, what was being demanded of the state election director, whether it was made on a state computer or Sandvoss's personal device, or what they are referring to by describing the attempted extortion as typical of many such online scams.

The Illinois State Police are investigating to determine who was behind this alleged extortion attempt, and how and why Sandvoss apparently became targeted.

State police officials told the I-Team that their investigation of the reported extortion "remains open and ongoing."

Sandvoss was early in his top position when authorities disclosed Russian hackers stole the personal information on hundreds of thousands of Illinois voters.

The penetration by the Russians, in summer of 2016, was among the first that cascaded into a widespread federal investigation of voting system breaches.

In the current Illinois situation, there is no reference to Russian involvement or any election system being hacked by them or anyone else.

Sandvoss' leave from his $162,000 per year job is described as a cautionary move because he is a high-ranking state employee in charge of elections.

The board, which is an independent state agency consisting of four Democrats and four Republicans, named Assistant Executive Director Bernadette Matthews to be acting director.
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