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Oklahoma Secretary of State says 'nyet' to Russian request to observe election

Oklahoma Secretary of State says 'nyet' to Russian request to observe election

Secretary of state says no to Russian election monitors

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OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma has turned down a request from Russia to have personnel in the state to study the Nov. 8 election, Bryan Dean, Oklahoma State Election Board spokesman, said Thursday.

Louisiana and Texas received similar requests in an election in which the GOP nominee, Donald Trump, has said the election is rigged and others have alleged that he is in cahoots with Russia as it tries to influence the U.S. election in his favor.

Election officials across the country dispute Trump’s allegation that the election is rigged against him.

Keith Gaddie, chairman of the Political Science Department at the University of Oklahoma, said Russia is “trying to throw shade on our election process.”

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.”

Benge said Thursday that he found the request concerning because of news reports that Russians were interested in trying to disrupt the election.

A nearly identical letter requesting access was also sent by Zakharov to Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler.

While Louisiana does not have a law similar to Oklahoma’s, Schedler declined for other reasons, said Meg Casper, a spokeswoman for his office.

Schedler said in a response letter that recent severe flooding affected about one-third of his employees, adding that his office is short-staffed and working day and night to prepare for the election.

“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.

He suggested that Zakharov contact him in 2020 if he is still interested in visiting a precinct during a presidential election.

“I wish you success with your request in other states and appreciate your interest in our voting process,” Schedler wrote.

Texas Secretary of State Carlos H. Cascos also declined the request, saying only those authorized by law may be inside a polling location during voting.

A spokesperson for the U.S. State Department said political parties, foreign governments and organizations are allowed to apply to state governments to observe elections.

“Individual states maintain the authority to approve or deny a request from outside parties to observe their elections,” the spokesperson said. “We understand that the Russian embassy intended to approach local authorities for assistance in observing elections.”

Gaddie said Russia is trying to “screw with people’s heads.”

“The United States has always had completely successful, legitimate transitions of government after elections,” Gaddie said. “You have got a domestic candidate who is engaged in what are frankly un-American and unpatriotic efforts to undermine the legitimacy of our elections.”

Gaddie said the Russian requests were an effort to destabilize an information and communication environment.

He also described the effort as “humorous.”

During Wednesday evening’s presidential candidate debate, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton accused Trump of favoring Russian President Vladimir Putin over American military and intelligence experts after the Republican nominee refused to accept the U.S. government’s assertion that Moscow has sought to meddle in the U.S. election.

She charged that Putin was backing Trump because Putin would “rather have a puppet as president of the United States.”

Trump denied any relationship with Putin and said he would condemn any foreign interference in the election. But he declined to back the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was involved in the hacking of Democratic Party organizations. The Clinton campaign has said the FBI also is investigating Russia’s involvement in the hacking of a top adviser’s emails.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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