The Halls of Democracy: Places of Civic Responsibility

Michael Mergen
Michael Mergen
Precinct 28080, Providence, R.I., 2010

American citizens—and those applying for the title—learn early that they have two primary civic responsibilities: voting and jury duty. As voting booths are installed in our common areas across the nation—in schools, gyms, firehouses, grocery stores and municipal buildings—we 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 voters—and voting locations—while 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, Deliberate and Naturalization, 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. “We are citizens everyday going about our business, but it’s rare when that becomes an actual tangible event. It’s kind of amazing that casting a vote at Bud’s Tire in Murfreesboro, Tenn. actually [contributes to] President Obama or Governor Romney winning.”

Michael Mergen is a Virginia-based photographer. 

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