3 states deny Russia election monitor request

Sean Murphy
Associated Press

Oklahoma City — Oklahoma and at least two other states said Friday that they have denied efforts by Russian officials to be present at polling stations during the election, requests the U.S. State Department’s spokesman dismissed as “nothing more than a PR stunt.”

The Oklahoma secretary of state’s office said it received a letter in August from Russia’s consulate general in Houston seeking to have one of its officers present at a voting precinct to study the “US experience in organization of voting process.” But the office denied the request, noting Oklahoma law prohibits anyone except election officials and voters from being present while voting is taking place.

Election officials in Louisiana and Texas said they denied similar requests from Russian officials.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has faced criticism for suggesting the election might be “rigged,” and the U.S. earlier this month accused Russia of coordinating the theft and disclosure of emails from the Democratic National Committee and other institutions and individuals in the U.S. to influence the outcome of the election.

Thousands of hacked emails from accounts of individuals within Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign have been posted on the website of the WikiLeaks organization. Russian officials have denied their involvement in the cyberattacks.

While there is a formal process for foreign governments to observe U.S. elections, individual states maintain the authority to approve or deny those requests, said State Department spokesman Mark Toner.

“Any suggestion that we rejected Russia’s proposal to observe our elections is false,” Toner said in a statement. “Individual parties — foreign governments, NGOs, etc. — are welcome to apply to state governments to observe our elections.”

Russia hasn’t participated in an international mission to observe elections, so its effort to do so on the state level represents “nothing more than a PR stunt,” Toner said.

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said the purpose of the requests was uncertain. He added it was “appropriate” that people might be suspicious of Russia’s motives.

Texas has similar prohibitions on entering polling places, and Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler denied the request, citing that state’s catastrophic flooding in the Baton Rouge area in August.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton ramped up her pressure on Donald Trump in the election’s most competitive states Friday with an emotional TV ad targeting his criticism of a Muslim-American family. Trump vowed to go all-out in the final three weeks so he’ll have no regrets — even if he loses.

The nominees retrenched behind familiar arguments a day after appearing together at a charity event that veered into cutting personal attacks. Clinton’s new ad features Khizr Khan, whom Trump assailed after Khan spoke at the Democratic National Convention.

Trump focused some of his criticism on Michelle Obama, who has emerged as one of the most effective voices for Clinton. One of the country’s most popular Democrats, the first lady for years has been loath to devote significant time to campaigning, but has done so in recent days with searing indictments of Trump’s treatment of women.

“All she wants to do is campaign,” Trump said as he rallied supporters in North Carolina. He cited comments Mrs. Obama made during her husband’s 2008 campaign in which she said someone who can’t run their own house can’t run the White House. “She’s the one that started that,” Trump said.

The typically self-assured Trump was unusually candid about the possibility of losing the election, a prospect that’s grown in likelihood as Clinton solidifies her lead in battleground states that will decide the election. Trump said he is packing his schedule with campaign events through Election Day so he will know he spared no effort even if ultimately unsuccessful. “I will be happy with myself,” he said.