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FastDemocracy Lets You Track Government In Action In 50 States

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Sara Baker, left, and her husband, Anatolij Gelimson, co-founded Fast Democracy.

Three years ago, Fast Democracy was just a Google spreadsheet. Sara Baker, who works as policy director for the ACLU of Missouri, found herself frustrated by the intricacies of following nearly 700 bills making their way through the state Legislature. Her husband, Anatolij Gelimson, put his coding skills to work on a spreadsheet to track the bills’ progress.

His efforts helped Baker cut through the chaos. But he didn’t stop there.

“Little did he know, after creating a spreadsheet for me that would automatically update, this would turn into the longest ‘honey do’ project of his entire life,” Baker joked on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air.

The couple began to talk about how they could put the technology Gelimson had created to use in the service of greater transparency. That led to a platform and then a company, both called Fast Democracy. The website and its app offer alerts, aggregated tweets and bill comparison features.

And it’s no longer just for the statehouse in Jefferson City. After winning funding from Arch Grants and working out the kinks in beta mode, the couple’s startup has ramped up. Fast Democracy now tracks all 50 state legislatures and Congress, with a free version designed to help activists and a paid one for professionals. Beginning this month, it also has a new CEO, Grant Campbell.

For Gelimson, the project has been a crash course in American politics. He acknowledged that he didn’t pay much attention to local politics before this; now he can describe the websites of state legislatures from coast to coast. (Those of Alabama and Massachusetts, he noted, are particularly bad.)

He may soon be helping Fast Democracy track local governments, too.

“Government is fundamentally local, and you can have the most influence over your own local government, and they have the most influence over your daily life,” Baker said. “I think it's incredibly important to go local and elevate issues like the spy plane issue in the city of St. Louis and make sure people understand what's happening and can meaningfully petition their government.”

They plan to do it not just for St. Louis, but from St. Louis. Baker noted that the couple recently bought a home here. They’ve found the city a great place to build their business.

“We've been very much supported by our fellow co-founders in the area, and the support staff at [startup-supporting] institutions,” she said. “St. Louis has proved a really rich environment for us. And you know, folks here are deeply interested in politics, too. We've gotten support within the entrepreneurial community and from the political community both right and left saying, ‘Yes, we need something that makes government accessible. And we're committed to creating an environment where a company like this can grow.’”

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Sarah Fenske joined St. Louis Public Radio as host of St. Louis on the Air in July 2019. Before that, she spent twenty years in newspapers, working as a reporter, columnist and editor in Cleveland, Houston, Phoenix, Los Angeles and St. Louis.

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