By Susan Heavey
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday urged Florida election officials to abandon recount efforts, declare his fellow Republicans the winners and, without evidence, cast doubt on vote tallies as state officials scrambled to review more than 8 million ballots by a Thursday deadline.
Leads by the Republican candidates in two key contested races – one for a seat in the U.S. Senate and one for the governor’s office – shrank as more ballots were tallied following last Tuesday’s election.
Trump’s call to end the recount, which is mandated by Florida law because of the closeness of the races, came 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.
Over the weekend, a machine recount began in the race between outgoing Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott and incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, with another recount underway for the Florida gubernatorial race between Republican Ron DeSantis and Democrat Andrew Gillum.
Gillum shot back at Trump on Twitter, saying, “You sound nervous. #CountEveryVote.”
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 has filed a number of lawsuits over the recounts amid ongoing election drama echoing Florida’s dramatic role in the 2000 U.S. presidential vote recount. On Sunday, Scott asked a judge to order police to impound voting machines and ballots when not in use.
Nelson has also filed a federal lawsuit.
Trump, whose Mar-a-Lago resort is located in West Palm Beach, repeated his complaints over the Florida races in an early morning post on Twitter on Monday.
Instead of counting all the votes, the president instead called on state authorities to go with the initial totals. Trump alleged that 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.
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, regardless of whether television networks or candidates have called the winners or losers in an election.
In addition, thousands of ballots mailed by overseas military service members and civilians may still be in transit. The deadline for them to be received by local elections offices is not until Friday.
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.
Some Florida officials have said it may not be possible to recount all ballots by Thursday’s 3 p.m. (2000 GMT) deadline.
Scott has said he won the Senate race even as the ballots are tallied again, telling Fox News in an interview on Monday morning: “I want to make sure there’s a free and fair election. But there’s laws. Comply with the laws.”
“It’s frustrating, but we won. We’re going to win the recount because it’s never been overturned before,” Scott said.
In a statement on Sunday, Nelson accused Scott of seeking to suppress votes and that if the governor wanted every vote counted he would abandon his lawsuits.
Separately, 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.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey; additional reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington and Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida; Editing by Scott Malone and Will Dunham)