The Halls of Democracy: Places of Civic Responsibility

American citizensand those applying for the titlelearn early that they have two primary civic responsibilities: voting and jury duty. As voting booths are installed in our common areas across the nationin schools, gyms, firehouses, grocery stores and municipal buildingswe realize the true weight of our duties as citizens.

Michael Mergen, an assistant professor of photography at Longwood University in Farmville, Va., became particularly interested in votersand voting locationswhile working as a photojournalist during the 2004 presidential election. When he walked into a barbershop-turned-polling center in west Philadelphia, Mergen thought to himself, This has to be preserved.

In the years since, Mergen has photographed countless voting booths, jury rooms and naturalization facilities in his quest to document what he considers essential parts of being an American. After combing through thousands of polling sites on Excel spreadsheets, the photographer then chose stations located in private homes or unusual businesses; his journeys have taken him to pizza parlors, living rooms, garages, funeral homes and other eccentric spots scattered across Philadelphia. His eight years of work have yielded three revealing yet non-partisan series aptly titled, Vote,DeliberateandNaturalization, which collectively seek to underscore the importance of citizen-driven governance.

There are few instances in our lives where as an American you can say, I was a citizen today, Mergen says. calohealth.com . We are citizens everyday going about our business, but its rare when that becomes an actual tangible event.Its kind of amazing that casting a vote at Buds Tire in Murfreesboro, Tenn. actually [contributes to] President Obama or Governor Romney winning.

Michael Mergenis a Virginia-based photographer.