By Letitia Stein and Susan Heavey
TAMPA, Fla./WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday urged Florida election officials to end a recount and declare his fellow Republicans the winners of disputed races in last week’s midterm elections
as a judge urged both parties to be careful with claims of fraud.
As Florida officials scrambled to review more than 8 million ballots by Thursday, Trump, without providing evidence, cast doubt on the recount process.
Leads by the Republican candidates in the races for a seat in the U.S. Senate and for the governor’s office shrank as more ballots were tallied following last Tuesday’s election. State law mandates recounts in elections where margin of victory is within 0.5 percentage points.
Trump called for an end to the recount even though state rules allow election officials to wait 10 days for absentee ballots submitted by registered voters living outside the United States, including active-duty military personnel.
A machine recount began over the weekend in the race between outgoing Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott and Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, with another recount underway for the Florida gubernatorial race between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum.
Republicans are eager to cement victories in a key battleground state after maintaining their control of the U.S. Senate in last week’s midterm congressional elections, while Democrats are eyeing another possible state governorship win. Both parties accused the other of trying to subvert democracy.
Scott on Sunday had asked a Broward County judge to issue an emergency injunction calling for law enforcement to seize all voting machines, tallying devices and ballots when they are not being used until the end of the recount and any related litigation.
The judge rejected that request on Monday, according to Marc Elias, an attorney representing the Nelson campaign. The Scott campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Broward County Circuit Judge Jack Tuter urged both sides to be restrained in their public statements as the state faces a repeat of its dramatic role in the 2000 U.S. presidential vote recount.
“I am urging (the lawyers) to tamp down the rhetoric,” Tuter told a hearing, according to the Miami Herald. “We have to be careful about what we say.”
Trump repeated his complaints over the Florida races in a Twitter post on Monday.
The president instead called on state authorities to go with the initial vote count totals. Trump alleged voter fraud had taken place, but provided no evidence.
“The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night!” he wrote.
Studies have found no evidence of large-scale voter fraud in the United States, though through the nation’s history courts have found evidence of policies intended to suppress voting by minorities.
“There’s zero evidence backing up claims by Republican extremists that Democrats are trying to steal the election,” Nelson said on Twitter on Monday. “What we’re trying to do is make sure every lawful vote is counted.”
Nelson on Monday called on Scott to recuse himself from playing any role in overseeing the recount.
Florida law gives local election officials until the Saturday after an election to submit their first round of unofficial election results. It is common for elections supervisors to process results well after election night.
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, which has said it will review allegations of criminal fraud, stated that it had no active investigations as of late Friday.
Scott has said he won the Senate race even as the ballots are tallied again, telling Fox News on Monday: “I want to make sure there’s a free and fair election. But there’s laws. Comply with the laws.”
Neighboring Georgia’s gubernatorial race also remains undecided as does the U.S. Senate contest in Arizona. Several U.S House of Representative races are also still too close to call. Democrats seized control of the House in last week’s election.
The Democratic National Committee and veterans’ advocacy group VoteVets Action Fund filed a new lawsuit on Monday asking a federal judge to order state officials to accept all mail-in ballots postmarked by Election Day, rather than only those received by 7 p.m. that day, the same time that polls closed.
The lawsuit noted that nearly 875,000 of the 3.5 million vote-by-mail ballots requested this year had not been counted as received by the Nov. 6 deadline.
The lawsuit noted that voters had no control over potential mail delays resulting from U.S. Postal Service delivery changes, or from an October bomb scare that evacuated a distribution center in a small and heavily minority community outside Miami.
(Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida, and Susan Heavey in Washington; additional reporting by Mark Hosenball and Lisa Lambert in Washington and Zachary Fagenson in Miami; Editing by Scott Malone and Alistair Bell)