Russian President Vladimir Putin talks to journalists at a forum in India. Three U.S. states denied a request by a Russian official to allow Russian election monitors inside select polling places. Photo by ALEXEI DRUZHININ/ SPUTNIK/KREMLIN POOL/EPA
WASHINGTON, Oct. 21 (UPI) -- Three U.S. states have denied a request by Russian officials to send election monitors to polling locations to observe the Nov. 8 election in person.
Officials in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana each declined a request by Alexander Zakharov, the Russian consul general in Houston, to have Russian election monitors see how the states hold their elections.
The request was denied in all three states for different reasons. Texas and Oklahoma flat out said no. Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos said state law prohibits unauthorized individuals from being inside a polling place -- and noted violators could be charged with a class C misdemeanor. Oklahoma Secretary of State Chris Benge said his state has a similar law on the books, though he suggested Russians watch television coverage of the election on Nov. 8.
Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler denied the request on the grounds the state's capital, Baton Rouge, was the location of devastating floods that damaged his office, thus prohibiting him from allowing visitors during the hectic election season.
"Had this flood event not occurred, we certainly would have been open to such a visit, but I cannot meet such a request with the situation I currently have in front of me," Schedler wrote.
Russian attempts to influence the outcome of the election have become a major campaign issue after U.S. intelligence officials tied hacks of Democratic groups and officials in the Hillary Clinton campaign to Russian operatives. Clinton has charged the Russians are trying to damage her campaign and influence the outcome of the election.
A White House spokesman said it was "unclear what their intent is." State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner called the request by the Russians a "PR stunt."
Russian officials criticized the U.S. response to the state-sponsored media outlet RT, saying international monitors are a common occurrence in other countries' elections.
"Americans obstruct Russia's attempts to monitor their elections because they see them as a threat. The refusal to allow Russian diplomats to perform their direct duties is a demonstrative violation of the 1961 Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations," said head of the Central Election Commission's department for international relations, Vasily Likhachev.