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A long, hot summer of building support to grant felons the right to vote

The fate of about 1.4 million people will be at stake in November as Florida voters decide whether most convicted felons should have the right to vote.

With the election less than four months away, supporters are organizing a statewide campaign to win voter approval of Amendment 4, which got on the ballot after an effective grass-roots organizing effort that lasted for several years.

But passage is far from assured in a deep purple and closely-divided state where midterm or non-presidential elections typically draw low turnouts, where President Donald J. Trump remains popular, and where some voters may simply be turned off by a  fatigue-inducing list of 13 ballot questions.

"Grass roots got us this far, and grass roots will get us across the finish line," said Desmond Meade, the public face of a campaign known as Second Chances, himself a former addict and convicted felon who holds a law degree but cannot vote. "People going around and having conversations with their friends. That has been the secret to our success."

Any voter-approved change to Florida's Constitution needs to win support of 60 percent of voters.

An icon of progressive politics who supports the proposal, former American Bar Association president Talbot (Sandy) D'Alemberte, says that is too high a hurdle in a state Trump narrowly won two years ago.

"The Trump people are not going to be people who want to be humane toward people who have already served their time," D'Alemberte said. "I don't see it winning. I never thought it would win. I hope I'm wrong about that."

The money raised for a statewide campaign in support of Amendment 4 has never been broad-based, and it has slowed to a trickle in recent months.

Through the first week of July, Floridians For A Fair Democracy, the supporters' fund-raising group, reported raising $5.5 million, but had about $300,000 in the bank, not nearly enough to pay for a statewide voter outreach effort.

Nearly $2 million in contributions came from the American Civil Liberties Union. Nearly $4 million in expenses went to a California company that hired petition gatherers to get signatures from registered voters — the critical step in any Florida ballot initiative campaign.

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