By Lauren Leazenby
Perhaps the most important function of the U.S. House of Representatives during the 2020 election is still a hypothetical: the power to elect the president in the case of an electoral college tie. According to Politico, it has become increasingly likely that the electoral college will not decide the 2020 election. Congress is set to certify the electoral college vote on Jan. 6, 2021. If the presidency is not yet decided by that point — as in, neither Biden nor Trump has received the 270 electoral votes needed to win — Congress has the power to vote to elect the president.
The new House delegation elected this November would cast those votes. And while the squarely Democratic House is unlikely to flip to a Republican majority, this vote actually hinges on entire state delegations, not individuals.
According to Politico, that vote currently stands at 26 Republican and 22 Democrat delegations, with the Pennsylvania and Michigan delegations being ties that would throw their votes out. So, a focus for House Democrats at the moment is gaining seats in states that would win them a majority vote in the majority of state delegations.
The House is currently made up of 232 Democrats, 198 Republicans and one Libertarian, while four seats are currently vacant, according to the House Press Gallery. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is the Speaker of the House, while Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) is the House Minority Leader. All 435 House seats are up for grabs in November. In the 2018 midterm election, the Democrats gained a net total of 41 House seats, effectively flipping the majority. In 2020, Politico predicts the Democrats will maintain their majority and potentially garner more seats.
This makes for a number of key Congressional races to watch:
Both Alaska and Montana currently have Republican-held at-large seats — meaning a flip of just this one seat to the Democrats would garner the party an entire state delegation. In Montana, the open race is especially tight. A poll conducted Sept. 14-16 by Siena College of 625 likely voters in Montana has Democrat Kathleen Williams at 44% over Republican Matt Rosendale’s 41%.
A seat Democrats may lose in November is New Mexico’s 2nd District, where incumbent Rep. Xochitl Torres Small (D-N.M.) is the “Democrats’ most vulnerable member of Congress right now,” according to the Washington Post. She represents a relatively conservative district that voted for Trump in 2016, and is up against Republican Yvette Herrell, her challenger in 2018. Currently, the polls have Torres Small in a marginal lead, with 47% to Herrell’s 45%, according to a poll by Research & Polling, Inc., conducted Aug. 26-Sept. 2 of 404 likely voters.
The Washington Post also reports a string of House GOP retirements this year — almost forty members, according to Pew Research Center. One such member is Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) of Texas’ 23rd Congressional District. Rep. Hurd represents a district that voted for Hilary Clinton in 2016. It now features a hotly contested, open race between Republican Tony Gonzales and Democrat Gina Ortiz Jones, and is “one of the Democrats’ best pickup opportunities nationwide this fall,” reports the Texas Tribune. The latest poll of this district conducted Aug. 6-9 by Public Opinion Strategies shows a close race: Among 400 registered voters, Ortiz Jones is at 41% and Gonzales is at 40%.
Ultimately, the 2020 election will be the last time the House’s 435 seats are apportioned exactly this way. The 2020 census will change how House districts are drawn in the future, starting with the 2022 midterm elections and lasting until the 2030 census. Based on population change from 2010, California, Illinois, Michigan and New York (among other states) are projected to lose a congressional seat after the census, according to data from the Pew Research Center, while Florida and Texas stand to gain two and three seats respectively.