Poll workers, Jerry Shaw (left) gets sworn in by Julie Moore (Right) at Best Friend Park in Gwinnett early Tuesday morning.  (John Spink)

Gwinnett MARTA referendum: Results trickling in.

It’s Election Day in Gwinnett County.

Polls are open for the county’s MARTA referendum until 7 p.m. Tuesday, with 156 polling places across the county. Your polling place is determined by your address and can be found using the My Voter Page tool on the Georgia Secretary of State’s website.

Return to AJC.com often for running updates throughout the day.

Update: The referendum failed. Read more here.

Update, 9:40 p.m.

With absentee ballots, advance in-person votes and about 37 percent of precincts reported, the no votes retained a lead. 

Update, 9:15 p.m.

With absentee ballots, about 10 percent of physical precincts and around 32,000 advance in-person votes counted, the no votes had a slight lead. 

Most of the Election Day voting remained to be counted.

Update, 8 p.m.

Shortly before 8 p.m., Gwinnett County posted its first results: about 1,600 absentee ballots. 

Almost two-thirds were “no” votes.

Update, 7 p.m.

The polls are closed in Gwinnett County. Results are expected to come in starting around 9 p.m.

At Lawrenceville First United Methodist Church, there was no major post-work rush. A handful of people trickled into the downtown church in the last hour of voting time, and 260 had already cast ballots by 6 p.m.

Hope Taylor, 48, voted yes, driven by a commute she described as stressful and too long. Taylor works in Atlanta and lives in Lawrenceville.

“You have to take a bus or a train, but you have to drive to get to either one,” Taylor said.

Taylor hopes the referendum passes and makes her commute easier.

“It would make getting to work less stressful, less costly and a lot safer, absolutely,” Taylor said.

Steve and Lola Lovelace, both lifelong metro Atlanta residents, don’t think the transit plan would alleviate traffic, saying they don’t see a high utilization of Gwinnett’s current bus system. The Lawrenceville couple both voted no on the referendum. 

“Here, you look at the buses and you see one or two people on them,” Steve Lovelace, 57, said. “99 percent of Gwinnett is only going to get buses that aren’t going to get filled.”

Update, 4:45 p.m.

Gwinnett County spokesman Joe Sorenson told the AJC that approximately 25,000 voters had cast ballots by 4 p.m.

Like earlier numbers that comes with a caveat: elections officials begin calling each of the county’s individual 156 voting precincts 60 to 90 minutes beforehand. That means some precincts’ numbers will be higher than reported.

Add those votes to the approximately 32,000 votes cast in advance, and turnout was approaching 60,000.

Brian Robinson, a spokesman for pro-transit committee Go Gwinnett, said the group has continued knocking on doors, texting voters, waving signs and releasing targeted digital ads throughout Election Day. 

“We’re communicating with voters over and over,” Robinson said. 

Joe Newton, the leader of a more grassroots opposition effort, meanwhile, was making plans for a “victory party.” 

“If the demographics hold up, we should win by a convincing margin,” Newton said. 

Update, 2:45 p.m.

Less than 80 voters had cast ballots at Rhodes Jordan Park near downtown Lawrenceville by 2 p.m.

Richard Johnson, 65 and a third-generation Lawrenceville resident, was one of the 79 who voted. He said no to the transit referendum. Johnson, who’s operated a dry cleaning business in his hometown for 30 years, doesn’t see a benefit for Lawrenceville in the transit plan.

“I’ve lived here all my life. As far as buses, I know some people will ride them, but I’ll never use them,” Johnson said. “If they were going to do it immediately, connect rail to Lawrenceville to go to the airport, then maybe, but I don’t forsee that in my lifetime.”

Richard Johnson, 65, voted no on the Gwinnett MARTA referendum.
Photo: Amanda C. Coyne

Johnson is also concerned about the 1 percent sales tax.

“I don’t want to pay an extra penny,” Johnson said. “I did some rough math and I think it would cost me $200 or $300 a year. There’s enough sales tax already and I’ll never get anything out of it.” 

Dennis Rowe, 59, voted yes. When he first moved to Lawrenceville 14 years ago, he had eight young daughters and one car, making it expensive and stressful to manage getting everyone around, he, said. 

“Now, I have one daughter still in college but the rest are grown,” Rowe said. “I’m on my own now, but I have grandkids that I have to think about.”

Update, 1:30 p.m.

AJC reporter Greg Bluestein reports that Republican Gov. Brian Kemp won’t be taking a last-minute stance on Gwinnett’s MARTA referendum.

 Many high-profile Republican officials have remained mum, but a few have given endorsements — including Kemp’s predecessor Nathan Deal, Gwinnett Sheriff Butch Conway and Gwinnett District Attorney Danny Porter.

Update, 1 p.m.

About 10,300 Gwinnett voters cast ballots this morning, county spokesman Joe Sorenson said — but that number comes with an important caveat. 

Sorenson said someone from the elections office began calling all 156 precincts for vote totals around 10:30 a.m. The process takes more than an hour, so some precincts’ reported vote totals were from earlier in the morning than others’. 

The figure likely does not include many votes cast during the typical lunch-hour “surge” of voters.

Update, noon

Fred Hicks, campaign manager for the pro-transit efforts of the New Georgia Project Action Fund, said he remained cautiously optimistic despite the morning’s seemingly low turnout. 

He suggested the low voter numbers could reflect an opposition that cast most of its ballots during the advance voting period. Turnout during lunch and post-work hours will be key.

“If we can win the day in a big way we can win this election,” Hicks said, “but we have a lot more to do to get there.”

READ | How would MARTA in Gwinnett affect your neighborhood? Here’s the plan

IN-DEPTH | The AJC’s comprehensive voter’s guide

An unknown number of Gwinnett voters, meanwhile, were reached by anti-transit robocall Tuesday morning. 

The call suggesed that MARTA “planned to put thousands of apartments” in Gwinnett should the referendum pass.

“That’s not good for Gwinnett,” the call said. 

Its origins were not immediately clear.

Update 11:30 a.m.

Four hours after polls opened, 65 votes had been cast at Lanier High School in Sugar Hill. Ryan Neilan, 41, cast a no ballot on the transit plan because he doesn’t think it does enough for Buford or northern Gwinnett.

“There’s nothing in that plan that benefits this part of the county,” Neilan said. 

If the plan had included more heavy rail reaching further into the county, Neilan may have voted yes, he said.

Jonathan Hoover, 38, (right) voted yes on the Gwinnett County MARTA referendum.
Photo: Amanda C. Coyne

Jonathan Hoover, 38, brought his 3-year-old son Harold to the polls. Hoover, a lifelong metro Atlanta resident, voted yes.

“It’s absurd that we don’t already have MARTA all over metro Atlanta,” Hoover said.

Hoover doesn’t travel outside the county on a regular basis, but he thinks expanding MARTA into Gwinnett will help alleviate congestion in the county.

“How much bigger can we make the roads? Not much,” Hoover said. Then, Hoover turned and looked at his son. “What are we going to do in 15 years?

Update 10 a.m.

Slow but steady described the pace at many Gwinnett County polling places Tuesday morning. 

Around 20 people cast ballots at Jones Bridge Park in Peachtree Corners before 7:30 a.m., and the pace at nearby Simpson Elementary School, which had high turnout in the November 2018 election, saw a trickle of voters before 8 a.m. 

No heavy lines had been reported before 10 a.m.

Barbara Gallman, 60, cast a yes ballot before driving to work in Atlanta. The development she sees in Peachtree Corners every day on her commute was a sign that drove her to vote yes.

“I commute to Buckhead and I use Peachtree Industrial Boulevard most of the way. All down that road I see so much construction – so many apartments going up, a Whole Foods. There is going to be so much more traffic on that road soon,” Gallman said. “The more opportunities we have to eliminate that would be really good.”

At the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, 33 people had voted as of 9:50 a.m. Connie Im voted yes at the arena before going to class at Georgia State University. The 22-year-old nursing student usually drives from her Duluth home to get to school in downtown Atlanta, fighting traffic before struggling to get parking.

“It would be nice to have something to make it so I wouldn’t have to drive and be stuck in traffic,” Im said. 

At Sunrise Baptist Church near Lawrenceville, 53 people had voted before 9 a.m. Ken McGill, 46, and his wife both voted no Tuesday morning. The McGills moved to Gwinnett from New Jersey in 2006.

"Down here, not having buses in the street clogging up the roadways, that's kind of important," Ken McGill said. "And I didn't see the real benefit in this area where we already have a lot of congestion and traffic."

"I don't see people abandoning their cars," he said.

Jim Wehner, 76, voted no at Trinity Lutheran Church in Lilburn. He too said he didn't see Gwinnett residents ditching their cars for public transportation.

"I pray to God it fails," Wehner said. "All we're doing is becoming a money cow for MARTA."

Jim Wehner, 77, of Lilburn.

In Dacula, Hebron Baptist Church had seen 66 voters by 10 a.m.

Across the county at Best Friend Park -- the precinct closest to Gwinnett’s would-be Norcross rail station -- only about two dozen voters had cast ballots by 10 a.m. A handful of poll workers sat waiting.

Update 9 a.m:

Gwinnett voter Robert Evely said he voted yes in order to get the process started.  “It’s just the beginning. That’s all we had to do was to start the process today. Let’s start the process; we can always stop it. A process like this is going to take 20 years, 30 years.”

“I’ve heard a lot of skepticism. A lot of it is fear. Fear of the unknown. But I grew up in Chicago and I grew up on trains and my parents didn’t drive cars for many years,” Evely said.

Adam Klein (Photo by John Spink/jspink@ajc.com)

Adam Klein, a resident of Gwinnett since 2012, said he feels public transportation is a key to quality of life. “Prices are rising in town and Chamblee and Doraville and elsewhere and people are getting pushed out of their areas. It’s important that people can have access to all the various communities and get to work and get home in a smooth way.”

Voting on Gwinnett's MARTA referendum early Tuesday inside Best Friend Park (Photo by John Spink/jspink@ajc.com)

Update, 7:50 a.m: Gwinnett County spokesman Joe Sorenson said that no issues opening polls had been reported. 

At Anderson-Livsey Elementary in Centerville — where misplaced power cords created long lines during November’s mid-term election — a slow stream of voters cast ballots after polls were opened. 

Hubert Thomas, 77, was among the first. He voted yes.

“There are a lot of people here that don't have transit, they need to get to work, they need to go around,” Thomas said. “I've been helping people that don't have transit, take to the doctor, take them to the church and so forth. So I think it's needed.”

Hubert Thomas, 77, voted yes at Anderson-Livsey Elementary. TYLER ESTEP / TYLER.ESTEP@AJC.COM

Shortly after Thomas left the school, Robertann Usher, 61, voted no. 

She said she didn’t feel like the proposed rail extension from Doraville into Norcross would create much benefit.

“And they're gonna charge me an additional tax to do that?” Usher asked. “Use the taxes you already have. You're already taxing us to death. “


Metro voters to decide hodgepodge of issues, municipal seats Tuesday

The rail extension is one portion of the transit plan that would be put in place should the referendum pass. Other planned services include bus rapid transit, a extensive expansion of local bus service and new park-and-ride lots and express routes.

Read more details below.

ORIGINAL POST, 7 AM: It’s Election Day in Gwinnett County.

Polls are open for the county’s MARTA referendum from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, with 156 polling places across the county. Your polling place is determined by your address and can be found using the My Voter Page tool on the Georgia Secretary of State’s website.

Voters are deciding whether to authorize a county contract that would allow MARTA to take over transit services and enact a 1 percent sales tax to fund an extensive 30-year transit plan. 

The transit plan includes:

• A Gold Line heavy rail station near Jimmy Carter Boulevard in Norcross

• Three bus rapid transit routes covering 50 miles

• Eight rapid bus routes covering 110 miles

• Nine express bus routes to downtown Atlanta and other MARTA rail stations covering 250 miles

• 11 park-and-ride lots

• Three direct connect routes to MARTA stations including Chamblee, Dunwoody and Medical Center

• 12 local bus routes covering 160 miles

• Six zones for on-demand “flex” transit service

• Paratransit service for those with physical disabilities

• Sunday service and extended evening hours on all bus routes

Wanda Jackson votes at Best Friend Park
Photo: Photo by John Spink/jspink@ajc.com

More than 32,000 people have already cast ballots in the three-week early voting period that ended Friday. If passed, the sales tax would begin on April 1. The first five years of the transit plan on the ballot are focused on adding local bus routes, flex transit and paratransit for those with disabilities. The lone heavy rail station in the plan would likely begin operations within 12 to 15 years, according to the county.

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The AJC held a community conversation about the proposed expansion of MARTA in Gwinnett County.

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