Joshua Bieber is something of a patriot. “As soon as I turned 18…I signed up for the selective service and I registered to vote,” says the Missoula resident and part-time University of Montana student.
For about two weeks, he has been helping citizens with felony convictions register to vote. Bieber works with Montana Connections’ VOICE Project. Montana Connections is an organization based in Bozeman that works on behalf of people who have been incarcerated. VOICE Project activists endeavor to both correct the myth that ex-felons are disenfranchised, and to re-enfranchise people with felony convictions.
“They have been told for years now by their parole and probation officers that they have lost the right to vote,” says Casey Rudd, Montana Connections’ founder and director.
Rudd works in concert with numerous organizations, like Montana Women Vote, registering people (with or without convictions) to vote. Bieber, though, is working the streets.
“As it turns out, I was the only person in Missoula who had expressed any interest,” he says. And, he says, “I need all the help I can get.”
Bieber had collected fewer than 10 voter registration cards by last week. He sleuths the bars. He keeps his ear to the street. He learns clues about possible ex-felons at the restaurant where he works and from personal connections.
“I have a few friends who have been in trouble in the past,” he says. “That’s the source of my early success.”
Most people don’t realize that even writing a bad check can result in a felony conviction.
“A felony conviction covers a lot of ground,” he says.
Rudd says she hopes the VOICE Project will register at least 5,000 ex-felons.
Montana Connections is modeled after a similar program in Oregon. Neither office can point to data that show whether felons have a better voting record than the average citizen.
Regardless, Bieber registers felons to vote because he believes that the 2004 election is pivotal.
“I think this is a pretty important election,” says Bieber, “no matter what side you’re on.”