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Florida governor Rick Scott accused Bill Nelson, his opponent in a brutally tight US Senate race now subject to a recount, of trying to steal the seat by committing voter fraud.

State elections and law enforcement officials say they have seen no evidence suggesting such allegations are true. Scott’s accusation appeared to be in keeping with a pattern of wild allegations about voter fraud used by Republicans, starting with Donald Trump, to contest election results they do not like.

Scott accused Nelson’s lawyers of trying to count ballots that have been thrown out and ballots cast by non-citizens. Lawyers for Nelson have gone to court to stop what they say is an effort by Republicans to stop some ballots being counted.

“Senator Nelson is clearly trying to commit fraud to try to win this election,” Scott said on Fox News Sunday. “That’s all this is.”

Host Chris Wallace challenged Scott on whether he was charging the senator himself with fraud.

“It’s his team,” Scott said.

In Florida on Sunday, amid Republican claim and Democratic counter-claim, the Senate and governor’s race recounts ran into an early technical hiccup.

In the state’s second most-populous county, the recount was delayed because of problems with the machines. Broward county was scheduled to begin counting about 700,000 ballots on Sunday morning, but a tested machine was not registering all ballots. Republican representatives asked that all machines be retested and county officials agreed.

The heavily Democratic county is one of two where Republicans have made allegations of possible ballot fraud, which appear to be unfounded.

Undaunted, Cory Gardner of Colorado, chair of the Republican National Senate Committee, joined the chorus on Sunday, telling CNN’s State of the Union: “We need to make sure that we are protecting the integrity of the electorate in Florida, that every vote is counted and to make sure we protect this from fraud.”

The Florida secretary of state ordered the recounts on Saturday, also ordering that the state race for agriculture commissioner be recounted. The recounts must be completed by Thursday. Miami-Dade county officials began feeding ballots into scanning machines on Saturday evening, among the first of 67 counties to do so.

In the race for the governor’s mansion, unofficial results showed Republican former US representative Ron DeSantis leading Democratic Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum by less than 0.5%.

On Saturday, Gillum withdrew his concession and replaced it with “an unapologetic and uncompromised call to count every vote”. DeSantis said he would continue to prepare to assume control of the state in January.

In the Senate race, Scott’s lead over Nelson is less than 0.25%.

In an interview with CBS’ Face the Nation, the Texas senator Ted Cruz said he saw “reason to be concerned” as “Florida’s history on recounts has not been great”.

That was a reference to the 2000 presidential election, in which a fraught and lengthy recount gave the White House to George W Bush over Al Gore by a mere 537 votes.

“Broward county was front and center in Bush versus Gore as well,” Cruz said. “And their history doesn’t give you a great deal of confidence.”

Asked if he was saying this year’s elections “could be getting stolen” or whether mere incompetence was at play, Cruz said: “It could almost always be a bit of both”.

Perhaps more tellingly than he intended, he added: “Any time you have a recount you have an invitation for people to violate the law and try to advance their partisans.”

All sides have deployed lawyers and volunteers across the state.

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