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Trump’s Contingent-cy Plan


— A potentially very close election, as well as recent discussions about changing how Nebraska allocates its electoral votes, reminds us that a contingent election is possible later this year.

— That would mean a 269-269 tie in the Electoral College, or some other situation where no single candidate wins the 270 electoral votes necessary for a majority.

— The newly-elected House would break this deadlock in January 2025. All 50 states would get a single vote, and it would take the votes of 26 state delegations to elect a president.

— Republicans should have a majority in at least 26 state U.S. House delegations in 2025, even if they do not retain the overall House majority.

Rating control of state U.S. House delegations

A contingent election—one in which no presidential candidate wins an Electoral College majority, thus requiring the newly-elected House of Representatives to pick the presidential winner in January 2025—is both very unlikely to happen but also possible to imagine. If it does happen for the first time in 200 years, the Republicans would very likely win the presidency. So while it takes 270 electoral votes to win the presidency, that’s really just the win number for President Biden. If no one hits that number, Donald Trump is in very good shape to ultimately prevail.

One does not need to come up with crazy Electoral College contortions, like a red Vermont or a blue Idaho, to propose plausible tied Electoral College scenarios: In fact, one could just restrict one’s self to playing around with different iterations of the seven key presidential battlegrounds (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) while holding all of the other electoral votes from 2020 constant to do so (we have laid out some scenarios).

Some national Republicans have been pressuring Nebraska to change its electoral vote allocation by congressional district system to foreclose the possibility of Joe Biden getting an electoral vote from blue-leaning NE-2 in Omaha, which Biden won by a little over 6 points under the current congressional map, a margin better than his 2020 popular vote edge of roughly 4.5 points. That could hypothetically still happen in a special session of the state’s technically nonpartisan but effectively Republican-controlled unicameral state legislature. This is a very important piece of the Electoral College puzzle, because Biden could hold onto the presidency even if he lost the trio of Arizona, Georgia, and Nevada if he defended the Great Lakes “Blue Wall” of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin—so long as he also held everything else he won in 2020, including NE-2. If NE-2 was no longer available to him, the result would be 269-269—the scenario we’re describing today that would very likely result in Donald Trump reclaiming the presidency.

It is worth noting that Maine, the other state that awards some electoral votes by congressional district, could change to a winner-take all state if Nebraska did, and a top state Democrat recently suggested that they would (Democrats control state government in Maine). This would deny Trump the electoral vote from the state’s 2nd Congressional District he carried in both 2016 and 2020 (and likely would again in 2024). That would restore Biden to 270 in the scenario described above.

In any event, here’s how a contingent election would work: The House would decide the presidency, and the Senate would decide the vice presidency. We’re going to focus on the House process.

Each newly-elected state-level House delegation would get a single vote, and Washington D.C.—which casts three electoral votes but lacks a voting member of the U.S. House—would be left out of the process. So that leaves 50 total votes, one for each state—in this election, California (52 House members) and Texas (40) have the same power as single-members states like Delaware and Wyoming. A majority—26—of the 50 state delegation votes is required to win; the House could only consider, at most, the top three electoral vote getters. Assuming that only Biden and Trump get electoral votes, the House would choose just among them, although perhaps a third contender could get electoral votes somehow. There are all sorts of moving pieces and, likely, as-yet-unanswered questions about a process that the House has not had to use in 200 years: The Congressional Research Service published a report about contingent elections in 2020 that we recommend to those curious about this process.

It would be up to the individual state delegations to determine how they would vote—or if they would vote. Some delegations could very well be tied, like Minnesota is now (and might continue to be after the elections), and thus might not be able to cast a vote.

Map 1 shows the current partisan makeup of the individual state House delegations, Republicans currently hold a majority of the House seats in 26 states, Democrats hold a majority in 22, and 2 delegations are tied (the aforementioned Minnesota, as well as North Carolina). Let’s go through the states by our traditional rating criteria; we have changed a few rating characterizations from the last time we looked at this, in early March 2023, which we will note by state below. We also will note some recent House news, as needed, when we mention certain states. 

Map 1: Current control of U.S. House delegations


Republicans start with a very high floor in this process, with 23 delegations that appear be rock solid for them.

Racial redistricting lawsuits forced new congressional maps in Alabama (6-1 R) and Louisiana (5-1 R), but Democrats are likely to flip only one seat in each state, meaning that the delegations would remain Republican. On Tuesday, a panel of federal judges ruled that a new Louisiana district was essentially too much of a racial gerrymander (it cuts across the state to pick up pockets of Black voters). The next steps are uncertain, but it may be that Louisiana eventually goes to a map that features a more compact and less Democratic-leaning (but still overall Democratic-leaning) new district. We are not changing any ratings in Louisiana right now—currently the state has four Safe Republican and two Safe Democratic seats—but we may need to in response to further developments (we will likely have more to say about this soon). Georgia (9-5 R) also has a new congressional map, but it doesn’t change the partisan makeup of the map.

Big states Florida (20-8 R), Ohio (9-5 R with one Safe Republican vacancy), and Texas (25-13 R) all feature lopsidedly GOP delegations and hardly any opportunity for Democratic offense. North Carolina (7-7 tie) has a new GOP gerrymander that essentially guarantees Republicans at least a 10-4 Republican delegation (we had it as Likely Republican in our March 2023 ratings, which was before this map was enacted). Medium/small-sized states Indiana (7-2 R), Kansas (3-1 R), Kentucky (5-1 R), Mississippi (3-1 R), Missouri (6-2 R), South Carolina (6-1 R), and Tennessee (8-1 R) have locked-in GOP delegation majorities even as Democrats are not completely shut out from representation in the state delegation. Arkansas (4-0 R), Idaho (2-0 R), Oklahoma (5-0 R), Utah (4-0 R), and West Virginia (2-0 R) are multi-member delegations composed of entirely Safe Republican-rated seats. Nebraska (3-0 R) is another all-GOP delegation; Democrats have an opportunity to defeat Rep. Don Bacon (R, NE-2), but even that would still leave a 2-1 GOP edge in the delegation.

North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming all have single-member, Safe Republican 1-0 R delegations.


Midwestern neighbors Iowa (4-0 R) and Wisconsin (5-2 R with one Safe Republican vacancy) make up this small category. Democrats would need essentially everything to go right to just reach parity in either state—meaning that these states, in a contingent election, wouldn’t in all likelihood go blue but they might not go red either. In Iowa, we rate Reps. Zach Nunn (R, IA-3) as Leans Republican and Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R, IA-1) as Likely Republican. In Wisconsin, we rate Reps. Bryan Steil (R, WI-1) and Derrick Van Orden (R, WI-3) as Likely Republican; Steil drew an interesting opponent recently in former Rep. Peter Barca (D)—Barca held this seat for a brief time from 1993-1995, so he’d have a three-decade gap in service in the (still-unlikely) event he won. All of these Iowa and Wisconsin districts voted for Donald Trump by small margins in 2020.


Montana (2-0 R) has just two districts: The open MT-2 covers much of the state’s land mass and is safely Republican. The other district, MT-1, is a Trump +7 seat, so it’s not really an obvious Democratic target. However, it is bluer down-ballot, so Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) should win it by several points even if he’s losing statewide (he carried it by 10 points in his 3.5-point 2018 statewide victory). Rep. Ryan Zinke (R) faces a rematch with Monica Tranel (D), an attorney and former Olympic rower; Zinke beat her by 3 points in 2022. We rate this seat as Leans Republican, so the statewide rating is also Leans Republican. Again, this is a state where the best the Democrats could do is a tie.

Just holding all 26 of these aforementioned delegations would give the Republicans a majority in a contingent presidential election. They wouldn’t need any of the following states, although they may end up winning some of them in 2024.

TOSS-UPS (5 states)

Michigan (7-6 D) and Pennsylvania (9-8 D) are presidential battlegrounds where Democrats are defending two Toss-up seats apiece (there are other competitive districts both parties need to defend in each as well). It wouldn’t take much for Republicans to win either of these state delegations. Arizona (6-3 R) sees Republicans defending two marginal Biden-won districts, held by Reps. David Schweikert (R, AZ-1) and Juan Ciscomani (R, AZ-6). Democrats could flip the delegation by winning both (this is a change from last March, when we had Arizona as Leans Republican). Maine has two districts, one that is safely Democratic and the other a Toss-up Trump-won seat held by Rep. Jared Golden (D, ME-2), so Republicans could force a tie in that state if they beat him (this is another change, as we had Maine as Leans Democratic previously). Finally, while we rate Rep. Mary Peltola (D, AK-AL) as Leans Democratic, we think she likely would face a lot of pressure to back Trump in a contingent election given the high likelihood of Trump winning Alaska (this may come up as a campaign issue). The combination of Peltola’s potential vulnerability (she holds the reddest district won by any Democrat in 2022) and the possibility that even if she won, she might feel a lot of pressure in her actual contingent election vote, means that single-member Alaska probably belongs as a Toss-up in this exercise (this is also a change from March 2023, when we had Alaska as Leans Democratic). Democrats currently hold the edge in 4 of these 5 Toss-up states (Arizona is the only exception), so Republicans have more room from this category to pad their overall advantage.

LEANS TIE (1 state)

We noted above that Minnesota has a split 4-4 delegation. The most competitive district—and the only one we have rated as something other than Safe for the incumbent party—is Rep. Angie Craig’s (D, MN-2) Biden +7 Leans Democratic district; national Republicans like Marine veteran Joe Teirab (R) in the seat, although he faces a primary with attorney Tayler Rahm in August. Rahm won a local GOP convention endorsement over the weekend but Teirab has raised way more money so far. Minnesota is likelier than not to remain a tied delegation but it is also a plausible Republican pickup option.


Colorado (5-2 D with one Safe Republican vacancy) and Virginia (6-5 D) also present possible opportunities for Republicans to force a tie in the delegation (the former) or an actual majority (the latter), although they’d have to win a Leans Democratic-rated seat in each to do so: beating Rep. Yadira Caraveo (D, CO-8) or flipping the open VA-7, which Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D) is leaving behind to run for governor in 2025 (Virginia was Likely Democratic in our March 2023 ratings, as Spanberger had not yet announced her future plans). Republicans have some defense to play in each state as well.


New Hampshire (2-0 D) has two competitive but Democratic-leaning districts; Nevada (3-1 D) has a Democratic gerrymander where Democrats are defending three seats that are competitive on paper but hard for Republicans to win in practice. The most competitive seat in Oregon (4-2 D) is held by Rep. Lori Chavez-DeRemer (R, OR-5), so the likeliest outcome is that Democrats maintain or even expand their statewide edge, but there are a couple of other districts that Republicans could hypothetically win, so the Democrats’ statewide majority is not completely guaranteed. If any of these states fell to ties or flipped to Republicans in 2024, we doubt the political environment would be suggestive of a tied Electoral College (rather, it would point to a strong GOP year).


Big blue megastates California (40-11 D with one Safe Republican vacancy) and New York (16-10 D) loom large in the overall battle for the House, but that’s because there are a number of Biden-district Republicans in each state, so the overall statewide edge for Democrats in each state is totally secure. Rep.-elect Tim Kennedy (D, NY-26) romped to victory on Tuesday in a special election in a Safe Democratic Buffalo-area seat, restoring that delegation to full strength. The Democratic advantage is also clear in medium-to-large-sized states Illinois (14-3 D), Maryland (7-1 D), Massachusetts (9-0 D), New Jersey (8-3 D, with one Safe Democratic vacancy after the recent passing of Rep. Donald M. Payne Jr.), and Washington (8-2 D).

The remainder of the Safe Democratic states are smaller: Connecticut (5-0 D), Hawaii (2-0 D), and New Mexico (3-0 D), where first-term Rep. Gabe Vasquez (D, NM-2) is in a Leans Democratic race but the other two Democrats are safe, as well as Rhode Island (2-0 D), where first-term Rep. Seth Magaziner (D, RI-2) had a competitive initial election but should have much clearer sailing ahead. The other two delegations in this category are the single-seat delegations of Delaware (an open seat) and Vermont.


No living American has any experience with a contingent election, as the tiebreaking method has not been used since 1824. A lot of the particulars would be subject to debate, and individual preferences and circumstances would matter. For instance, the math above assumes a full complement of 435 House members in early January 2025; perhaps the House would not actually be at full strength because of a death or other vacancy, which could upset the math. Perhaps members are disloyal to their party; perhaps there actually is a third contender who gets electoral votes besides Biden and Trump. We could speculate endlessly.

But ultimately this process would be, we think, an exercise in political power wielded by whichever party could command a majority of the 50 state delegations. Republicans appear very likely to be able to muster that power in early 2025, if they need it.