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Ham & eggs

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Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

There's that old tale about the pig and the chicken trying to decide what to have for breakfast. When the chicken suggests ham and eggs, the pig quickly rebuts, “You're not giving up much but for me it's a total sacrifice.”

That could just as well be a conversation between the national Republican Party and a few of Pennsylvania's Republican leaders. The proposal to change the manner in which Electoral College votes are apportioned here would likely please the party's national bigwigs but at great risk to the locals.

In Pennsylvania, the tried and true winner-take-all Electoral College system would be replaced by the assignment of delegates on a proportional basis. This would split the votes and would have given some delegates to Mitt Romney in the last election, even though he lost the state.

National Republican Chairman Reince Priebus has said of some states that President Obama won, like Pennsylvania, “I think it's something that a lot of states that have been consistently blue that are fully controlled red ought to be looking at.” But that's easy for him to say.

There are more than 1 million more Democrats than Republicans in Pennsylvania. With that registration edge, no Republican can get elected statewide without considerable support from Democrats. And Pennsylvania Republicans would bear the brunt of the likely backlash from changing the rules to gain an edge for some imaginary presidential candidate.

The lessons are fresh. Manipulating polling places and times in Florida and Ohio frustrated some voters in November. But it only hardened the resolve of many who showed up and waited, even some who had not planned to vote, just to prove that they could not be denied. They were mostly Democrats.

Voter ID laws, like the Pennsylvania version that is still being challenged in court, transparently required hoop-jumping by elderly and poor voters who would have been rebuffed at the polls without the “proper” ID. In Pennsylvania, a court order sidetracked the law so as not to affect the last presidential race, blunting its intent. Those who were allowed to vote as they always had in the past were mostly Democrats.

Changing the rules to win — in Monopoly or football or politics — rubs most Americans the wrong way. It is the opposite of winning fair and square, of fighting the good fight. And those who try it are usually held accountable by a fair-minded electorate, without regard to party or politics.

If you are a Republican with statewide ambitions, or if you represent a swing district now, and you get a say in this proposed rule change, you have a choice. You can listen to the chicken, knowing that it stands to lose only an egg, and contribute your whole ham to the national agenda, making the ultimate sacrifice.

Or you can play by the rules. Run on your record. Win or lose.

Joseph Sabino Mistick, a lawyer, law professor and political analyst, lives in Squirrel Hill (

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