The Gwinnett County Board of Commissioners (BOC) along with MARTA Board have created a contract that states, “Gwinnett County has executed a contract for the provision of transit services, dated as of August 2, 2018. Shall this contract be approved? Yes? No?” which will implement public transit throughout Gwinnett County. This contract would expand access to create more railroads, bus stations, jobs, reduce air pollution with natural gas, and reduce congestion and travel times. However, the contract would have only pass if the voters in Gwinnett County approved because the transit sales taxes collected in the county are Gwinnett funds and will be remitted to Gwinnett by the State. Unfortunately, election day was on March 19th where the voters of Gwinnett decided whether to pass or deny the MARTA referendum; Gwinettians denied MARTA which revealed most of the constituents of Gwinnett County did not want this to pass due to an increase of one percent sales tax, so-called crime, racism excuses, and other reasons. The Gwinnett Democratic Party Chairwoman Bianca Keaton stated in a Facebook post that Charlotte Nash the Chairwoman of the BOC knew about the importance of expanding public transit but paid $770,000 to delay this contract to take place in March. This voter turnout had decreased by 47.42% from the planned November vote initially. I attended several MARTA town hall meetings to receive information from the MARTA board and legislators in favor of this contract, to inform others the necessity of expanding MARTA for many factors and for some of which I have listed. During one of the town halls held, Gwinnett County Commissioner Ben Ku was asked on his position about MARTA; he responded that with the growth and changes in Gwinnett, more travel options are needed for the people and businesses. As I attended these town halls, I could see a division within the community, those in opposition were questioning those in favor. Most of the questions asked were, “where is the funding coming from”, “within how many years will we see railroads in Jimmy Carter”, “will crime increase”, “do you think we are bringing more unwanted people”, “I will not be alive if this referendum passes” and many more. More than 91,100 votes were cast, revealing a controversy debate as to whether Gwinnettians wanted the expansion of MARTA.
The metro total of those in opposition and voted “no” were 49,936 and a total of 41,985 for those in favor who voted “yes.” A map was released revealing the precinct level results, voters who live along the congested Peachtree Industrial Boulevard on the northern side of the county were in favor of MARTA’s expansion, on the other hand, the voters on the northern east side of the county were not in favor. On election night, once results were received, the pro-transit supporters argued the Chairwoman purposely delayed this contract, knowingly it should have been added on last November’s midterm election. This contract has polarized Gwinnett county even more than it has been which has led to voter suppression. Voter suppression has many forms, and by the chairwoman delaying the vote, this led for a lower turnout rate. This was not a fair election since the chairwoman decided to play politics over a planned November vote. This was not the first vote for the expansion of transit in Gwinnett County and that the Republicans in Gwinnett County have failed to pass. The MARTA referendum has previously failed the last two votes which took place in 1971 and 1990. Both elections failed to pass this contract even thirty years later in 2019 the referendum failed. Mass transit is a political issue in which Democrats in Gwinnett had believed those in opposition would get rid of their conservative views to accept that Gwinnett County’s population will continue to increase. There are suspicions that the Republican chairwoman was part of the Republican tactics to delay the MARTA referendum for fewer Democrats to vote.
According to the results, political conflict was created within political parties while voting for the MARTA referendum that divided their votes since the contract would conclude an addition of 1% sales tax to fund for transit expansion. Polarization leads to the group divisions between Democrats and Republicans creating tensions and confrontations. As I attended these town hall meetings, I was provided with a glance of polarization within a county. The voters at these town hall meetings were debating the advantages and disadvantages of the referendum. Democracy can break down as Republicans focus more on tactics rather than being fair. Since the Republicans no longer control the Gwinnett legislative delegation, to prevent another vote of this contract would be held through local legislation. This MARTA referendum was not a fair election, and the Gwinnett Republican legislators attempted to continue to strip away the voters of Gwinnett County decision by adding an amendment to Senate Bill 200 that would delay the next vote on MARTA until 2026. Luckily State Representative Brenda Lopez Romero who is in favor for expanding MARTA, made a call to action by sending an email newsletter and public facebook live video to constituents in Gwinnett County to take action by calling, emailing, or lobbying at the Georgia State Capitol to stop this legislation to pass. By preventing another MARTA referendum in Gwinnett until January 1, 2026, SEVEN years, they would be silencing Gwinnett voters. The referendum in March was to silence the majority, and this will silence them even further. Thankfully, by the second last day of the session, the amendment was removed from the Senate Bill, therefore, allowing another vote for a MARTA expansion in Gwinnett County.