Civil rights groups, state voting officials and computer experts all praised Wednesday a bill by Sens. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., designed to improve the security, accuracy and accessibility of voting in America.

Their bill addresses "key issues that cause millions of eligible voters to be disenfranchised" every year, Barbara Arnwine, executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law told the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration.

Feinstein chairs that committee and Bennett is its ranking Republican. They joined forces to write the proposed "Bipartisan Electronic Voting Reform Act," and held the hearing on it Wednesday.

The bill would do such things as require independent verification of ballots by paper, electronic, audio, video, pictoral or other means — and require implementation of that by Jan. 1, 2012.

It would require states to establish procedures for audits of federal elections; require development of chain of custody protocols for voting systems, components and records; provide $30 million for research into verification technologies; and require easier access for the disabled through such things as voice voting, or hearing and seeing ballots.

Bennett said the bill brings "a degree of security and reliability ... while still allowing the states to experiment," and that "strikes the right balance."

Feinstein said, "I believe that if there is going to be an electronic security bill, this is it."

Arnwine said voter complaints investigated by her group show many problems with voting still exist, and that the bill is needed.

For example, she recounted how a Georgia voter in this year's primary said he asked to vote Democrat, but Republican names appeared on his machine. Then the machine shut off. "When the voter asked the poll worker for assistance, he was told that he had already voted, even though it was not for the candidate of his choice."

She said issues addressed in the bill are critical, and "voters need to feel confident that the votes they cast count for the candidate they choose."

Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita, representing the National Association of Secretaries of State, said the bill generally meets the goals that group has for such legislation. But it is concerned that its requirement to have verification and audit procedures in place by 2012 may not be feasible.

He said such technology "isn't on the market and frankly may not even be in the laboratory stage at this point."

But Juan E. Gilbert, a computer science professor at Auburn University, said it has developed a system that would meet the requirements of the bill — and that its calls for verification, security and audits are all "much needed areas."

Jim Dickson, vice president of the American Association of People with Disabilities, also praised proposals in it to allow voting by voice and other methods to make voting easier for the disabled.

"The legislation allows for innovation and experimentation. The legislation sets objectives but does not dictate how the objective is to be achieved," he said.

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