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Texas to Russia: Stay out of our polling places

Texas has denied Russian officials’ request to observe the state's voters in their polling places.

Homepage of the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Houston.

Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos has said no to Russian officials’ request to watch Texans vote, according to correspondence obtained by The Texas Tribune.

“Please note that 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,” Cascos wrote last month in a letter to Alexander K. Zakharov, the Russian consul general in Houston. “We are unable to accommodate your request to visit a polling station."

Cascos was responding to Zakharov’s request, dated Sept. 24, that Texas allow someone in his office inside a polling station on Election Day “with the goal of studying the U.S. experience in organization of voting process.”

In his letter, Cascos instead offered to arrange an informational meeting between the Russians and local officials. Alicia Pierce, Cascos' spokeswoman, said Friday that no such meeting was arranged. 

Zakharov’s office did not answer a phone call from the Tribune, and it does not appear to use voicemail.

Texas was one of three states — including Louisiana and Oklahoma — that turned down such requests from Russia, according to the Tulsa World

The revelation comes in a presidential year in which Russia is playing a major role. Federal officials suspect the federation hacked into emails published by Wikileaks that have embarrassed Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign, and Republican nominee Donald Trump has stirred controversy by expressing admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Texas is one of 12 states that explicitly prohibit or limit international election observers, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

On Thursday, Kremlin-backed news outlet RT referenced the rejection from the three states in a story that claimed U.S. State Department officials were barring Russians from observing voting anywhere in the country — an accusation U.S. officials deny.

“In violation of all principles of democracy and international monitoring, in Texas they even threatened to hold monitors who appear at ballot stations criminally responsible,” an unnamed source said, according to RT.

A spokesman for the State Department told POLITICO that the episode was “nothing more than a PR stunt,” and noted that states set their own policies on election observers. “Any suggestion that we rejected Russia's proposal to observe our elections is false," he added, according to the news outlet.

In 2012, Gov. Greg Abbott, then the attorney general, caused a stir when he more forcefully warned a group of international election observers — the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe — not to set foot in a Texas polling place.

“UN poll watchers can't interfere w/ Texas elections,” he tweeted at the time. “I'll bring criminal charges if needed. Official letter posted soon. #comeandtakeit."

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