Democracy, Danger and Data: What can a startup do?

by Jesse Mortenson | at Minnebar 17 | 1:55 – 2:40 in Alaska | View Schedule

The Open States project has done the grunt work of collecting and publishing free, open data on legislation across the US for 13 years. But, if anything, dynamics of transparency and trust in democracy seem to have gotten worse. Mundane assertions about vote tabulation or ballot practices are partisan again. Disagreements about basic facts, about data, seem to have plied the wheel of democracy free from its axis.

What can a tech startup do about this? Can we imagine a society in which data brings truth and clarity to collective decision making and public policy? Or has that ship sailed?

Jesse Mortenson and Obinna Osisiogu, respectively, are the CTO and VP of Africa for Plural. Join us for a lively discussion of democracy through both a data/tech lens, and also a multinational lens as we draw connections between threats to US and Nigerian democracy. The conversation will proceed from data access and literacy, through narratives about policing and elections, to visions from science fiction (and beyond) that draw us to still believe in the promise of technology in politics both in the United States and Nigeria.

Plural is a Minnesota-founded and VC-backed startup that builds collaboration and data tools for public policy research and advocacy. We adopted the Open States project in 2021, and we are expanding that open data project to countries in Africa. Our founders started the company in 2015 with the belief that technology can help narrow the transparency and participation gaps in democracy. Our vision is a future where people and data drive public policy. We started with, and continue by, asking hard questions about how to achieve this.


Jesse Mortenson

Jesse is the Chief Technology Officer at Plural (, a venture-backed startup created here in Minnesota (formerly Civic Eagle). Plural exists to make the creation of public policy more transparent, responsive, and inclusive. And to make full participation in democracy possible, through our leading open source/open data project and free democracy tools. Across the country, we help millions of people find out who represents them, and hundreds of organizations advocate effectively in the legislative process.

At Plural, Jesse combines his experience from years of volunteer public policy advocacy work and decades of web technology work. His professional background goes from running his own small web development agency to years of application development, devops practice, and a brief teaching stint at code camp. Tech side projects in recent years included and (both inactive). He currently plays a lot of Age of Empires IV in his free time.