You could say the fate of the Gwinnett County’s MARTA referendum was decided long before Tuesday’s ballot count, in which voters rejected it soundly.
In August the Republican-controlled leadership of the county decided on a special election, consigning its citizens’ transit-expansion decision to a special March election date surrounded by spring break weeks and minimal voter interest. That decision was neither unexpected nor uncalculated. They sought to protect vulnerable Republicans in the November election; liberal-leaning voters were inspired by an African-American woman running for governor and the chance to react to Donald Trump’s presidency.
Recall that Stacy Abrams got 56 percent of Gwinnett’s votes for governor, while most of the county’s Republican legislators and two county commissioners fell to Democrats.
So when voters were asked to approve a one-cent sales tax to finance rail from Doraville to Norcross, and build a 50-mile bus rapid transit system, “no thanks” won by eight percentage points among the 91,000 who voted. That number was higher than expected but still just 17 percent of those registered.
Gwinnett has rejected MARTA twice before, and this won’t be the final word. Among the options for proponents:
- Press for another vote in November of 2020, when Trump will be running for re-election and Georgia will have a high-profile U.S. Senate race.
- Organize for 2022, when the governor will be up for re-election and there’s a good chance that Democrats will control the county commission.
In any case, the changing politics and demographics of Gwinnett seem to guarantee that MARTA will eventually arrive. And energy should be spent on planning for the best and most effective transit system to serve this critical part of metro Atlanta.
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The Editorial Board.