UPDATE: 900 votes cast on Day 1 of voting in Gwinnett MARTA referendum

A historic vote is underway in Gwinnett County and it could change the way many of you get around.

Just over 900 Gwinnett voters cast ballots on Monday, the first day of advance in-person voting in the county’s historic MARTA referendum.

That total figure, provided Tuesday morning, was a continuation of a trend observed earlier Monday. Gwinnett elections officials had called the nearly 600 folks who cast ballots by the end of the first day's lunch rush "very significant" for a special election.

The county also mailed out 836 absentee ballots Monday morning.

ExploreMORE COVERAGE OF DAY 1: Turnout looking strong for MARTA referendum

Voter turnout is unlikely to reach full-on mid-term election levels, which hit 60 percent of Gwinnett’s 525,000 registered voters last November. But the county is preparing for such a surge of voters, in terms of staffing and machines.

“I think MARTA is just a very polarizing issue for Gwinnett County,” elections director Lynn Ledford said Monday.

Ledford said voting Tuesday morning was a bit slower than on Day 1, “which is expected.”

“The first day is usually heavier,” she said.

ExploreIN-DEPTH: The AJC’s comprehensive Gwinnett-MARTA voter’s guide
ExplorePODCAST: Understanding Gwinnett’s upcoming MARTA vote

Early voting will be held at the Gwinnett elections office (455 Grayson Highway in Lawrenceville) from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day until March 15. That includes weekends.

Between March 4 and 15, early voting will also be available at seven satellite locations throughout the county. Those locations can be found here.

Voters can cast ballots at their normal precincts countywide on Election Day on March 19.

If the referendum is approved, Gwinnett County’s pending contract with MARTA would be ratified and the county would be committed to collecting a new 1 percent sales tax until 2057.

ExploreIN-DEPTH: Do traditional fears about MARTA match reality?
ExploreIN-DEPTH: Bruising lessons from Gwinnett’s 19ib90 MARTA vote linger today

The proceeds of that tax would fund an extensive transit expansion laid out in a county-designed plan adopted last year. That plan includes a rail extension from Doraville to Norcross, as well as “bus rapid transit” lines, greatly expanded local bus service and several more park-and-ride locations and express routes.

(See the contract and plan embedded at the bottom of this article.)

Most surveys and polls conducted in recent years have shown that a majority of Gwinnett residents are likely willing to pay a new sales tax to expand transit options. But the referendum could be decided by a slim margin, thanks in part to it being held during a stand-alone special election instead of being added to general election ballots last November.

Turnout will be key for both sides of the issue.

AJC’s COMPLETE COVERAGE

Gwinnett voters will go the polls on March 19 in a historic special election that could change the face of metro Atlanta’s suburbs.

Residents there will decide if Georgia’s second most populous county will join the MARTA system and chip in a new 1 percent sales tax to pay for billions of dollars in transit improvements. A successful referendum in Gwinnett may ignite action for more mass transit in other metro Atlanta counties that have long been resistant to the idea.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution will provide comprehensive coverage leading up to the vote and on Election Day. Our reporters will help readers understand the issues, the key players, what’s at stake, and provide information for voters to make an informed decision at the ballot box.

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