(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday urged Florida election officials to abandon recount efforts and declare his fellow Republicans the winners of disputed races there at last week’s midterm elections, while Democrats filed a lawsuit to challenge the state’s deadline on mail-in ballots.
As Florida officials scrambled to review more than eight million ballots by Thursday, Trump, without providing evidence, cast doubt on the recount process required by state law in close elections.
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.
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.
The Democratic National Committee and veterans’ advocacy group VoteVets Action Fund in court papers on Monday asked 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 outright rejection of such ballots, based on arbitrary conditions — namely the timeliness of post office delivery — outside the voter’s control unlawfully infringes upon the fundamental right to vote,” Democrats said in the lawsuit.
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.
Scott also has filed multiple 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.
Trump, who owns a resort in West Palm Beach, 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.”
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.
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 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.
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker has scheduled a Wednesday hearing on another lawsuit, filed by Nelson’s campaign, seeking to stop the state from rejecting vote-by-mail and provisional ballots where voter signatures do not match the record on file.
In the lawsuit, Nelson’s campaign said “thousands of eligible voters” could see their rights violated under current practices, citing research that black and young voters disproportionately see their ballots rejected.
Reporting by Letitia Stein in Tampa, Florida, and Susan Heavey in Washington; additional reporting by Lisa Lambert in Washington; Editing by Will Dunham and Alistair Bell