The Connecticut Supreme Court yesterday declared Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D-Conn.) the victor over Edward W. Munster (R) by 21 votes in one of the nation's closest elections ever, but a GOP-controlled House could determine the final outcome next year.

A three-judge panel of Connecticut's top court issued a 90-page decision that denied Munster's request for a new election and deemed the voting irregularities he cited as insufficient to overturn the election in the state's 2nd Congressional District. The court declared Gejdenson duly reelected to an eighth term, clearing the way for the secretary of state to certify him as the winner.

Because the U.S. Constitution leaves the ultimate decision to the House, the incoming GOP majority has to decide whether to challenge Gejdenson's reelection on Jan. 4, opening day of the 104th Congress. The court ordered all election materials preserved until the House has rendered judgment.

"It's in (speaker-to-be) Newt Gingrich's court. Sam Gejdenson is declared the victor," said Chris Sautter, a lawyer who represents Democrats in the disputed election.

Dan Leonard, spokesman for Rep. Bill Paxon (R-N.Y.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said GOP officials were waiting to review the decision and talk to the Munster campaign before making a decision.

Michael Sununu, a spokesman for Munster, said the challenger would ask House Republicans to declare the seat vacant and seek another election because of alleged irregularities with absentee ballots. "They can recount and say it's clearly unclear who won this race," Sununu said.

Before the court ruling late yesterday afternoon, House Republican leaders said they had not decided whether to challenge the seating of Gejdenson and have the House Oversight Committee review the election results. GOP lawmakers are still smarting from the vote of a Democratic-controlled House to seat Rep. Frank McCloskey (D-Ind.) instead of Republican challenger Richard D. McIntyre in a disputed 1984 election.

"One thing you will not see is the Republicans of the House trying to steal elections," Paxon said. "We're going to be careful. We're going make certain that the people's right to a fair count is observed, but we will not play any games.

The court ruled that Gejdenson won with 79,188 votes to 79,167 for Munster, a former state senator who lost to Gejdenson by less than 4,000 votes in 1992.

The incumbent's four-vote election night margin this year increased by 17 votes in a hand count of ballots from Norwich, where some voters had not completely penciled in the arrow next to his name.

"We were very disappointed in the decision," Sununu said on behalf of Munster. "The Supreme Court arbitrarily decided to recount one town and ignore the 53 other towns in the district."

In a statement, Rep. Martin Frost (D-Tex.), new chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, assumed the court decision settled the disputed election. The district's "voters can head into 1995 knowing the decision as to who represents them in Congress was made in Connecticut and reaffirmed by the highest court in Connecticut, not in Washington, D.C.," he said.

If Republicans decide not to seat Gejdenson, the new House Oversight Committee under Rep. Bill Thomas (R-Calif.) would conduct a review. Thomas and Gejdenson have developed a hostile relationship as members of the sharply partisan panel.

Since 1789, the majority party has ruled against the minority party about 90 percent of the time in 540 disputed elections.