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"Every state has an opportunity and obligation to learn from the debacle in Wisconsin," writes U.S. PIRG's Joe Ready.

What not to do: Wisconsin provides a case study in election resilience

Ready is the democracy program director at the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, the network of state organizations that use research, grassroots organizing and direct advocacy to advance the public interest.

Last week's election in Wisconsin was a total failure of leadership. No one should ever be forced to choose between going to the polls and risking coronavirus infection, or staying home and forgoing the basic right to vote.

Yet despite the clear threat to public health and to our democracy, about 300,000 Wisconsinites confronted that very choice and decided to get out and vote. The full extent of the damage, both to human health and voter participation, may never be known.

What is abundantly clear though, is that with a bit of foresight and planning, this could have been avoided. Elected officials in Wisconsin and across the country should act now to avoid repeating the same mistakes.

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"Candidates should be accountable to, and dependent on, regular folks — not only people, special-interest groups and institutions with lots of money," argues Joe Ready.

How you and your neighbors are offering an alternative to the ‘big-donor primary’

Ready is democracy program director for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, which advocates for the public interest.

The presidential election is less than a year away and the Democratic voting begins in less than three months, but every day between now and then, the candidates are also competing in a "big-money primary."

You didn't get a ballot for the big-money primary? Don't worry, most of us don't. Here's how it works. Running for office is incredibly expensive. Unless candidates are independently wealthy, they often need to court contributions from megadonors or corporate interests to be competitive in their races. So, a very small number of people have massive influence on who runs for office — and well before any of us get a chance to cast a ballot. It's been this way for years.

But in the 2020 presidential election, there are signs that big money's grip on our democracy may be loosening. Through October, contributions of less than $200 were the single largest source of funding for the presidential candidates, according to a U.S. PIRG analysis of Federal Election Commission data. In total, candidates have raised almost $192 million in small-donor funds. That's nearly twice as much as the total contributions from big-donor-funded political action committees and other organizations. It's also nearly $100 million more than candidates had raised at the same point in the 2016 campaign.

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