Monday was the start of a 17-day voter registration effort in Southern Sudan.  The goal is to get eligible voters signed up to take part in a referendum on January 9 that will determine the future of southern Sudan.  In the south, people are expected to vote overwhelming in favor of independence from the north.  The Carter Center, based in Atlanta, Georgia, is one of the organizations monitoring the voter drive and referendum.  The head of the organization, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter warns there are many issues that could delay the vote.  

The long civil war in Sudan, and the tentative peace agreement between the north and south have long been a focus of The Carter Center and former President Jimmy Carter.

"We've been in Sudan the last 2.5 years, as a matter of fact, and I was there in April for the election of the leaders in north and south," said Jimmy Carter.

The results of that election, which the Carter Center monitored, have been widely criticized, with allegations of vote rigging.

The elections in April, however troubled, were another step outlined in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, or CPA, which provides for a referendum to determine whether southern Sudan will be independence from the north.

Since August, members of the Carter Center have been observing preparations for the referendum.

"I have 30 people in southern Sudan right now monitoring that process," he said.

That number will increase as the referendum draws near.  Voting is scheduled to begin on January 9th, a date former President Carter says might be too soon.

"I don't think either side is ready to admit that the date needs to be postponed, although there are a lot of problems in the evolution of the electoral referendum procedures in getting the ballots printed and getting some of the key issues resolved concerning exact borderline between north and south," said Mr. Carter.

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir has allowed the process to move forward, although analysts say it would be difficult for him to lose the oil-rich south if people there overwhelmingly vote for independence, as expected.

Despite the credibility of the process, and the danger of renewed violence between the north and south in the wake of the vote, Jimmy Carter says the referendum is still planned for January 9.

"So I'd say it's a troubled prospect," said Jimmy Carter. "And I think the south is determined not to delay the election beyond the ninth of January, but that may become necessary."

Voting registration for the January referendum extends beyond Sudan's borders.  Sudanese living abroad can register to vote in eight countries, including the United States.