DOES THE FAILURE of the House, with its Democratic majority, to seat the apparent Republican winner in Indiana's 8th Cistrict send a signal that the 99th Congress will be dominated by partisan bickering? Or was the party-line vote to be expected -- like the election of the speaker? In fact, the roll call simply postpones a decision on who won.?

In November Frank McCloskey, a first-term Democratic incumbent, appeared to be the victor by a slim 72 votes. After a recount was ordered in one county, though, challenger Richard McIntyre pulled ahead, by a margin of only 34 votes. Indiana's Republican secretary of state then declared Mr. McIntyre the winner and sent formal certification to Washington on Dec. 14. Democrats demanded that other counties be recounted, and, at the moment, Mr.cCloskey has regained the lead, but the formal recount in still in progress. Since the House is the final judge of the qualifications of its members, a decision had to be made last Thursday about which man to seat or whether to admit neither. Students of the House say that if the Democrats had really wanted to be partisan they could have voted to accept their colleague, Mr. McCloskey, as the winner on the basis of the current count. In fact, they did something far more fair. They directed the House Administration Committee to investigate the matter, and neither man will be seated until the returns from Indiana are reviewed.

With any luck this impasse won't drag on for as long as the grandaddy of all contested seat disputes, the Wyman-Durkin battle of 10 years ago. The November 1974 New Hampshire Senate race was exceedingly close. Initially, Democrat John Durkin was declared the winner by 10 votes. After a recount, Republican Louis Wyman upset him by four votes, but a further challenge cut that lead in half. Both men were, at one time or another, given credentials by the state. Shortly before Congress was to convene, the Republican governor appointed Mr. Wyman to fill out the unexpired term -- three days -- of the retiring Norris Cotton, so the Republican had the psychological advantage of the title "senator," even though neither contestant was seated. For 10 months the Senate wrangled over the question, and members of the Rules Committee actually hand-counted paper ballots from Sunapee, Dixville Notch and Center Sandwich. By the end of the summer hope for a reasonable settlement was abandoned and the whole election was rerun in September. Mr. Durkin won handily.

There were more votes cast in Indiana's 8th District than in the original Wyman-Durkin Senate contest, but the contested margin is not nearly as close. The House decision against a rush to judgement was a prudent, not an unfairly partisan course to take.