President Donald J. Trump, flanked by Montana U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, right, signs H.R. 1957, the Great American Outdoors Act, on Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in the East Room of the White House. Credit: Official White House photo by Tia Dufour

In advance of a historically routine vote Jan. 6 where the U.S. Congress tallies the results of the 2020 presidential election, U.S. Sen. Steve Daines said Saturday he will join several other Republican senators in disputing the Electoral College count awarding the presidency to Joe Biden.

Daines and some Republican peers want Congress to appoint an election commission to provide further review of the November vote in certain states. That would potentially create a path to overturn the results in those states before Biden is sworn in to office Jan. 20 by giving Republican-controlled legislatures in those states a chance to switch their state’s electoral votes from Biden to Trump. The Republican senators said they will reject those states’ Electoral College votes unless a 10-day audit is completed. 

“An unprecedented number of Americans have significant doubts about the integrity of 2020 presidential election results,” Daines wrote in a statement, citing Biden’s relatively narrow margin of victory in several states.

“I believe it is important that we agree to hear the concerns of Americans, and that’s why I believe it’s important that we form the electoral commission. To answer the questions outstanding, find resolution and protect the democratic process,” Daines continued. “Once completed, individual contested states would evaluate the commission’s findings, and if necessary could convene [a] special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed.”

With election results certified by state’s across the nation, and U.S. Electoral College votes tallied Dec. 14, Biden has been elected the next U.S. president with 306 Electoral College votes to Trump’s 232. While Biden won some states by relatively narrow margins — just 12,670 votes in Georgia, for example, and 20,682 in Wisconsin — his Electoral College margin was big enough that Trump would have had to win multiple swing states to claim victory.

Even so, rumors about improper election administration and voter fraud have spread widely on social media — inflamed by partisan news outlets and President Trump’s own insistence that he won. Those claims have consistently been undermined by judicial scrutiny in dozens of cases brought before state and federal courts.

In Wisconsin, for example, Trump-appointed federal judge Brett Ludwig rejected an effort by the Trump campaign to have the state’s presidential election results discarded and the state’s electoral votes re-awarded by the GOP-controlled Wisconsin Legislature.

“This is an extraordinary case,” Ludwig wrote in his order. “A sitting president who did not prevail in his bid for reelection has asked for federal court help in setting aside the popular vote based on disputed issues of election administration, issues he plainly could have raised before the vote occurred.”

In another case, a federal judge in Michigan, Linda Parker, concluded that Trump attorneys hadn’t produced any reliable evidence to support allegations of ballot tampering in the Detroit area, describing those claims as “speculation and conjecture.”

The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case brought in December by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton — and supported by Montana Attorney General Tim Fox, a fellow Republican — arguing that Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin should be prevented from certifying their 2020 results because they had changed some election procedures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even as Trump and his allies have failed to undercut Biden’s victory in legal venues, they do appear to have successfully undermined the American’s public’s faith in the integrity of the election, particularly in Republican circles.

Daines’ statement cites a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll conducted in mid-November in which 39% of respondents and 67% of Republicans indicated they were “concerned that the election is rigged.”

In that same poll, 23% of all respondents and 52% of Republicans indicated they believed Trump was the rightful winner of the 2020 election, compared to 63% of all respondents and 29% of Republicans who believed Biden was the rightful winner.

Saturday, Daines cast his push for an election commission and rejection of the Electoral College vote as an effort to bolster public trust in the election’s outcome. 

“There have been continued reports of irregularities with signature verification, different rules for mail-in ballots versus in-person ballots, delayed receipt of ballots, inconsistent curing of ballots, a lack of meaningful access to the polls, the dispute process and counting process for partisan poll watchers,” he wrote. “These issues have cast doubt on the legitimacy of the presidential election outcome which needs further investigation for the credibility of our institutions.”

Daines spokeswoman Katie Schoettler didn’t respond to an email Saturday afternoon asking for citations supporting the senator’s allegation of such irregularities.

The full statement issued by Daines is as follows:

U.S. SENATE – U.S. Senator Steve Daines today called for an election commission to review the November 3rd, 2020 presidential election process. Daines issued the following statement:

“An unprecedented number of Americans have significant doubts about the integrity of 2020 presidential election results. Fewer than 45,000 votes spread across three states would alter the vote of the Electoral College. Couple that with the fact that the processes and the way Americans voted was altered at a scale never before imagined outside what the state legislative process intended. There have been continued reports of irregularities with signature verification, different rules for mail-in ballots versus in-person ballots, delayed receipt of ballots, inconsistent curing of ballots, a lack of meaningful access to the polls, the dispute process and counting process for partisan poll watchers. These issues have cast doubt on the legitimacy of the presidential election outcome which needs further investigation for the credibility of our institutions.

“To restore confidence for Montanans and the American people, I am joining a group of senators to propose an election commission to quickly audit the election results. 

“Senators have raised concerns following previous elections before. They debated the issues and as a result created a path towards reforms that were made for future elections. Furthermore, I believe it is important that we agree to hear the concerns of Americans, and that’s why I believe it’s important that we form the electoral commission. To answer the questions outstanding, find resolution and protect the democratic process.

“Once completed, individual contested states would evaluate the commission’s findings, and if necessary could convene special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed. The commission provides a needed path to resolution before the January 20th inauguration.”

Daines joined a group of senators in sending the following joint statement in advance of the Electoral College certification process on January 6, 2021:

“America is a Republic whose leaders are chosen in democratic elections. Those elections, in turn, must comply with the Constitution and with federal and state law.

“When the voters fairly decide an election, pursuant to the rule of law, the losing candidate should acknowledge and respect the legitimacy of that election. And, if the voters choose to elect a new office-holder, our Nation should have a peaceful transfer of power.

“The election of 2020, like the election of 2016, was hard fought and, in many swing states, narrowly decided. The 2020 election, however, featured unprecedented allegations of voter fraud, violations and lax enforcement of election law, and other voting irregularities.

“Voter fraud has posed a persistent challenge in our elections, although its breadth and scope are disputed. By any measure, the allegations of fraud and irregularities in the 2020 election exceed any in our lifetimes.

“And those allegations are not believed just by one individual candidate. Instead, they are widespread. Reuters/Ipsos polling, tragically, shows that 39% of Americans believe ‘the election was rigged.’ That belief is held by Republicans (67%), Democrats (17%), and Independents (31%).

“Some Members of Congress disagree with that assessment, as do many members of the media.

“But, whether or not our elected officials or journalists believe it, that deep distrust of our democratic processes will not magically disappear. It should concern us all. And it poses an ongoing threat to the legitimacy of any subsequent administrations.

“Ideally, the courts would have heard evidence and resolved these claims of serious election fraud. Twice, the Supreme Court had the opportunity to do so; twice, the Court declined.

“On January 6, it is incumbent on Congress to vote on whether to certify the 2020 election results. That vote is the lone constitutional power remaining to consider and force resolution of the multiple allegations of serious voter fraud.

“At that quadrennial joint session, there is long precedent of Democratic Members of Congress raising objections to presidential election results, as they did in 1969, 2001, 2005, and 2017. And, in both 1969 and 2005, a Democratic Senator joined with a Democratic House Member in forcing votes in both houses on whether to accept the presidential electors being challenged.

“The most direct precedent on this question arose in 1877, following serious allegations of fraud and illegal conduct in the Hayes-Tilden presidential race. Specifically, the elections in three states—Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina—were alleged to have been conducted illegally.

“In 1877, Congress did not ignore those allegations, nor did the media simply dismiss those raising them as radicals trying to undermine democracy. Instead, Congress appointed an Electoral Commission—consisting of five Senators, five House Members, and five Supreme Court Justices—to consider and resolve the disputed returns.

“We should follow that precedent. To wit, Congress should immediately appoint an Electoral Commission, with full investigatory and fact-finding authority, to conduct an emergency 10-day audit of the election returns in the disputed states. Once completed, individual states would evaluate the Commission’s findings and could convene a special legislative session to certify a change in their vote, if needed.

“Accordingly, we intend to vote on January 6 to reject the electors from disputed states as not ‘regularly given’ and ‘lawfully certified’ (the statutory requisite), unless and until that emergency 10-day audit is completed.

“We are not naïve. We fully expect most if not all Democrats, and perhaps more than a few Republicans, to vote otherwise. But support of election integrity should not be a partisan issue. A fair and credible audit—conducted expeditiously and completed well before January 20—would dramatically improve Americans’ faith in our electoral process and would significantly enhance the legitimacy of whoever becomes our next President. We owe that to the People.

“These are matters worthy of the Congress, and entrusted to us to defend. We do not take this action lightly. We are acting not to thwart the democratic process, but rather to protect it. And every one of us should act together to ensure that the election was lawfully conducted under the Constitution and to do everything we can to restore faith in our Democracy.”


This story was updated Jan. 3 to more precisely describe how Congress finalizes the presidential election vote and the specific portions of the procedure that Daines and other GOP senators plan to dispute. 

latest stories

VA agreement adds six beds as COVID cases and hospitalizations climb

As the number of Montanans hospitalized with COVID-19 reached its highest level since winter this week, Gov. Greg Gianforte said his administration has secured an agreement to make six hospital beds at the Fort Harrison VA medical center available for patients who don’t otherwise qualify for health care through the Veterans Affairs system.

Eric Dietrich is a journalist and data designer and the founder of the Long Streets economic reporting project. His reporting focuses broadly on Montana’s governance and economic opportunity, with particular focus on the state budget and tax policy. He also contributes data reporting across the MTFP newsroom. Before joining the MTFP staff in 2019, he worked for the Great Falls Tribune, Bozeman Daily Chronicle, and Solutions Journalism Network and also earned an engineering degree from Montana State University. Contact Eric at edietrich@montanafreepress.org, 406-465-3386 ext. 2, and follow him on Twitter.