State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner called the Russian effort a “PR stunt.”
Russian officials have requested to be present at polling stations on November 8th in at least three states, including Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. The Tulsa World reports:
In a letter to Oklahoma Secretary of State Chris Benge, Alexander K. Zakharov, Russian consul general in Houston, sought permission to have an officer from the Russian Federation study the state’s election process.
Benge, recently tapped to serve as Gov. Mary Fallin’s chief of staff, said state law prohibits anyone other than election officials and voters in or around the area where votes are being cast during elections.
“I hope that you are able to view the televised election process on Nov. 8, 2016, as citizens of the United States select the country’s next president,” Benge wrote. “It is truly an amazing system.”
According to the Associated Press, the Russian consulate wanted to study the “US experience in organization of voting process.” The secretaries of state for Louisiana and Texas also declined Russia’s request.
In a statement provided to Jezebel, Mark Toner, deputy spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State, noted that “individual parties—foreign governments, NGOs, etc.—are welcome to apply to state governments to observe our elections,” but that individual states can approve or reject such requests on their own authority.
“Russian officials also had an opportunity to join the OSCE observation mission,” Toner’s statement read, using an acronym for the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe. “In September, U.S. officials participated in the OSCE observation mission to the Russian parliamentary elections. The fact that they have chosen not to join the OSCE mission makes clear this issue and the story are nothing more than a PR stunt.”
Keith Gaddie, chairman of the Political Science Department at the University of Oklahoma, inferred a more nefarious motive. Russia is “trying to throw shade on our election process,” he told the World, and “screw with people’s heads.”
A phone call to the Russian Embassy in Washington, D.C., was not answered. Earlier this month, the Obama administration formally accused Russia of meddling in the presidential election.