The historic Parke County Courthouse on the square in Rockville was built not long after the Civil War, but it has only been in recent years that the building has been made easily accessible to people with disabilities.
This spring, thanks to a $10,000 federal Help America Vote grant, the courthouse has added an automatic door at the base of a wheelchair ramp on the east side of the building. The door provides access to the building’s elevator, making the whole courthouse less difficult to enter for people facing physical handicaps.
“It’s a great improvement,” said Lee Richardson of Parke County, who was helping his wife, Jeanne, make her way into the courthouse last week to cast an early vote for Tuesday’s primary election. Jeanne is on oxygen, and the automatic door was a big help to the couple, they said.
“It’s great they are doing things like this,” Lee said. “Especially for people like us who find it hard to navigate.”
The new automatic door, which leads directly to the entrance of the Parke County Health Department, is the second of its kind at the Parke County Courthouse. Two years ago, the county election commission obtained a $5,000 HAVA grant to pay part of the cost of an identical door on the courthouse’s west side.
Before the new doors were installed, entering the courthouse via a wheelchair ramp involved opening two doors, including a heavy wooden door.
“We have a lot of older people who vote absentee” and vote early, said Pam Lee, a voter registration official in Parke County. More than 250 people had cast early votes by April 30 and for many, the automatic doors were a valuable improvement, she said.
“People like [the new doors] really well,” added Sheena Ferguson, a member of the absentee voter board.
It’s a little amazing Parke County went so long without better access for people with disabilities, said Randy Wright, a member of the election board and the county historian. Wright filled out the HAVA grant application for the first automatic door two years ago at a HAVA informational meeting in Indianapolis, he said. Despite being hand-written, the grant was accepted, allowing the first door to be installed with just a few thousand dollars of county funding.
The more recent HAVA grant, for the second door, was for $10,000, meaning the county could afford the new automatic door and also 13 sturdy “Vote Here” signs for the county’s polling locations, said Diana Hazlett, Parke County clerk and also a member of the election board. It was Hazlett who recommended the county seek a $10,000 grant this time around, Wright said.
Because the courthouse contains the voter registration offices as well as an early voting site, “access to the courthouse is access to voting,” Wright said. “This has really made a lot of difference.”
The Help America Vote Act was passed by Congress in 2002 in the wake of the 2000 presidential election, which went undecided for weeks, thanks to voting problems in Florida. Indiana received more than $1.6 million in HAVA grant funding between 2003 and 2011, according to the Indiana Secretary of State’s office.
“It was a group effort,” Wright said of Parke County’s decision to get the automatic doors. “It’s just something I think we’ve needed for a long time.”
Arthur Foulkes can be reached at (812) 231-4232 or email@example.com.