Last day of Sudan voting referendum in Omaha
After a long night of tallying expatriates' votes for or against the secession of southern Sudan, Atem Da'Hajhock, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan, joyfully hugs a friend at Juba Restaurant on Sunday, Jan. 16, 2011. The total votes from the Omaha referendum center were 3,054 for secession and 17 for unity. (MAY-YING LAM / Lincoln Journal Star)

Voting for the Southern Sudan Referendum went smoothly in Omaha, with an overwhelming response from voters, according to officials.

With 3,221 registered voters, Omaha was the largest polling place in the United States and had a 95 percent turnout rate. Of the voters, 3,054 voted for secession, 17 for unity.

Polls closed at 5 p.m. on Saturday, but poll workers counted votes into the wee hours Sunday morning.

"People are extremely pleased that their vote will be counted and recognized by the world," said Christa Yoakum of the International Organization for Migration, who helped run the polling site. "The response was amazing, but for many people, this vote was a matter of life and death -- more important that most of our American elections."

She said she was amazed by the lengths to which people went to vote -- from eight-hour car rides to buying plane tickets and taking off work.

"They put out a lot of personal expense over this," Yoakum said.

The seven-day poll ended Saturday with 83 percent turnout worldwide, the Sudan Referendum Commission said on Sunday. More than 3.9 million people registered to vote.

More than 8,000 Sudanese refugees living in the United States voted overwhelmingly in favor to split their homeland, Southern Sudan, from the north in a referendum that could create the world's newest country.

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The Southern Sudan Referendum Commission on Tuesday announced the preliminary results for votes taken in eight U.S. cities. Benaiah Duku, a U.S. representative for the group overseeing the voting, said 8,412 people voted in favor of secession and 75 voted to keep the country united.

The referendum was part of a 2005 peace deal that ended more than two decades of civil war between the largely Christian and animist south and the mostly Muslim north.

Early unofficial results point to a Southern Sudan secession, but the two regions will continue to depend on each other: The south has most of Sudan's oil, and the north has the infrastructure to export it.

Final results are expected Feb. 7 or 14, according to the commission's website.

In Sudan, Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin warned against premature celebration of independence. 

"The opinion polls indicate that the south will definitely vote for a state of their own, but we must still wait for the final result," Benjamin said. "Don't dance and beat drums and celebrate before the baby is born, in case there may be a miscarriage."

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Reach Jordan Pascale at 402-473-7120 or jpascale@journalstar.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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