From David McKenzie, CNN
January 10, 2011 11:17 a.m. ESTVoting in Sudan

Juba, Sudan (CNN) — Tens of thousands of people across Southern Sudan went to the polls Sunday in a historic referendum that an international election observer said appeared to have been well-handled.

“There were very, very large numbers from the early hours of this morning all day long,” said David Carroll, director of the Democracy Program at the Carter Center, in a telephone interview from Juba. “They were waiting patiently, they were in a happy, celebratory mood. They went through the process in an orderly way, largely. We saw a very meaningful, important process that the southern Sudanese are engaging in with a lot of passion.”

By the time polls opened at 8 a.m., many Sudanese had already been standing on line for hours to cast their ballots on whether the south should declare independence or remain part of a unified Sudan.

Those who were still on line at 5 p.m. were allowed to remain there until they were able to vote, he said. “It’s something that is clearly very, very important to the people of Southern Sudan.”

he Atlanta-based Carter Center has about 70 observers in Sudan and 30 observers in eight other countries where Southern Sudanese are living and voting, Carroll said.

More important than the voting, he said, is what it represents. “This is really moving Sudan into an entirely new future, and it’s meaning that the Sudanese are ready to move into a new era.”

…..Mary Dennis arrived at a polling place at 4:30 a.m. to secure her spot near the front of the line. “I had to come early,” she said. “This is a vote for our country.”

Edwina Loria, 18, was determined to cast her ballot. “I want to be a first-class citizen,” she said, “I want independence.”

John Baptiste and his friend showed up before 4 a.m. They sat on the ground with a radio to monitor news of the day’s events.

“I am on a mission,” Baptiste said. “My mission is to vote. We have waited for 50 years, and we want to be separate. We have planned for many days to be here first.”

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