What comes next under any of these scenarios? The certification of electoral votes has to be done by both the House and the Senate on January 6, after the new Congress is sworn in. If they disagree on one or more states, it’s possible that no candidate would have the 270 votes required to be president before the inauguration on January 20. So the Constitution gives the House of Representatives the authority to choose a president—but not by a simple majority vote. Rather, each state’s delegation casts a single vote. Support from a majority of the states—that is, 26—is needed to select the winner. Of course, each state’s delegation would have to calculate how to cast its vote, but it is a near-sure thing that the partisan identity of the legislators would be key.
There’s the rub, and the key to the importance of a set of House races. Right now, despite the Democrats having a comfortable majority of seats in the House, the Republicans have a majority of states—26, to be exact. The delegations from two states are deadlocked. (One of those two deserves an asterisk: Michigan went from a 7–7 tie to 7–6–1 for Democrats with the move of Representative Justin Amash, who’s called for impeachment proceedings against President Trump, to independent status.)
In several of the states, the majority is slim, and if a single congressional seat changes hands, it could change the majority or create a deadlock. That’s true of Republican states such as Florida, whose delegation splits 14–13, and Wisconsin, 5–3; it’s also true of Democratic ones such as Colorado, now 4–3; Arizona, 5–4; Minnesota, 5–3; and Iowa, 3–1. * Then there are states with a single member, such as Montana and Alaska, with one Republican apiece, and states with just two representatives, such as Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Maine, where one switch could create a deadlock.
Not surprisingly, Democrats will have many vulnerable House seats in 2020, after winning a slew of seats in red and purple districts in 2018. But some of those seats may prove more consequential than others. For Democrats, the challenge first is to maintain their majority in states such as Iowa, where three Democratic seats are toss-ups, and Virginia, where two fit that category, as well as single seats in Maine, New Hampshire, and Michigan.
Because Democrats won most of the toss-ups last time, their targets are fewer—but there is at least one seat in Florida, in the 15th Congressional District, and a couple in now-deadlocked Pennsylvania that might allow them to take control of a state delegation; and in Montana and Alaska, the controversial Republican incumbents Greg Gianforte (who body-slammed a reporter and then lied about it) and 86-year-old Don Young are targets of opportunity.
While the Wisconsin GOP, with a 5–3 advantage, has gerrymandered its congressional seats to keep the party’s edge, good candidates and an infusion of money could conceivably swing one seat to deadlock the state. (And it is manifestly in Democrats’ interest to have Amash run for reelection.) A failure to adequately fund all of these contests would amount to political malpractice.