US elections: Russian request to monitor vote gets a 'nyet'

Tensions between the US and Russia
Tensions between the US and Russia

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Story highlights

  • The State Department calls the reports from Russia a "PR stunt"
  • Russia's interest in the election comes as Donald Trump has claimed it's rigged

Washington (CNN)Three states have said "nyet" to a Russian request to send its diplomats to monitor polling stations on Election Day, according to letters from state officials provided to CNN.

Oklahoma, Texas and Louisiana turned down the request from the Russian consulate in Houston. Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler wrote that recent flooding had left his office extremely short-staffed trying to deal with the damage and prepare adequately for the vote on November 8. "Had this flood event not occurred, we certainly would have been open to such a visit," he told Consul General Alexander Zakharov.
    Both Oklahoma and Texas denied the Russian proposal citing state laws that prohibit it.
    "While it would be our honor to offer the opportunity to observe our voting process, it is prohibited under state law to allow anyone except election officials and voters in or around the area where the voting takes place," the Oklahoma secretary of state's office wrote to the Russians. "I hope that you are able to view the televised election process on November 8, 2016, as citizens of the United States select the country's next president. It is truly an amazing system."
    Texas Secretary of State Carlos H. Cascos also denied the request, explaining in a letter to the Russians, "only persons authorized by law may be inside of a polling location during voting. All other persons are not authorized and would be committing a class C misdemeanor crime by entering."
    The letter went on to say "our office is available to discuss generally the election process" and asked the Russians to "please let us know if you would like us to arrange such a meeting.
    The Russian request comes after Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has repeatedly raised the prospect that the election could be "rigged" and warned of the possibility of "large-scale" voter fraud.
    Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton has pushed back at the allegation, while labeling Trump a "puppet" of President Vladimir Putin given the candidate's many friendly statements about the Russian leader and unwillingness to back Obama administration accusations that Moscow has been behind the hacking of US election systems and political groups.
    Russian-funded news RT claimed that several states had rejected Russian requests to provide poll monitors -- as well as the federal government.
    But State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that "any suggestion that we rejected Russia's proposal to observe our elections is false."
    He continued, "Individual parties -- foreign governments, NGOs, etc. -- are welcome to apply to state governments to observe our elections."
    Russians have the opportunity to monitor the American election through the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, but they have chosen not to, according to Toner.
    US officials last month took part in an OSCE observation mission of the Russian parliamentary elections, Toner said.
    He added that Russia's decision not to join the OSCE missions "makes clear this issue and the story are nothing more than a PR stunt."
    White House spokesman Josh Earnest as well noted on Friday that Russia had declined to participate in the OSCE mission, raising questions about their intentions.
    "It's appropriate that people might be suspicious of their motives or at least their motives might be different than what they have publicly stated, given the nefarious activities that they've engaged in in cyberspace," he said.
    The Russian embassy issued a statement saying Moscow had "not submitted any requests to the Department of State regarding the election observation." The statement noted Russia had sought permission from US local officials to become "acquainted" with election procedures but had been turned down.
    "It is obvious that in this case our American colleagues are lacking transparency for this kind of work," the statement said.