Downing Street has insisted, repeatedly, that any turnout for the police and crime commissioner elections would represent a more democratic outcome than the previous status quo.
But it looks increasingly likely that voter apathy today will cast questions over the legitimacy of the new commissioners.
The government’s handling of the first PCC elections was branded a “comedy of errors” by Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society.
She said polling stations were “standing empty” today and called for those responsible for “avoidable errors” in the delivery of the elections to be held to account.
Others, however, may argue that turnout was always going to be low for a new system that the public had never shown much appetite for. Turnout may also have been affected by holding the ballot on a cold day in November.
In the most radical shake-up of the service for half a century, the new commissioners, who are expected to earn up to £100,000, will control police budgets, set priorities and have the power to hire and fire chief constables.
Elections are being held in 41 police areas outside London.
The ERS has predicted a turnout of 18.5 per cent, which would be below the previous record low in a national poll in peacetime of 23 per cent in the 1999 European elections.
Anecdotal reports suggest a minimal turnout in some parts of the country, although the final turnout may not be announced until Friday.
“Polling stations are standing empty because voters knew next to nothing about the role, let alone the candidates they were expected to pick from,” said Ms Ghose.
“The Home Office has operated under the assumption that ‘if you build it they will come’.”
Although the commissioners will be there to hold the force to account, opponents fear they will attempt to interfere with day-to-day operational matters.
A number of former senior officers have raised concerns about the reforms.
Ex-Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Ian Blair initially encouraged people not to vote, saying the posts were “very strange” because the police areas were too big for any individual to properly represent, though he later backed away from this position.
Sir Hugh Orde, chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said there would be “huge issues” if the proposed commissioners demanded local needs were met at the expense of national priorities, such as child protection, anti-terrorism and major crime units.
But supporters insist it will improve accountability among police forces and make them more aware of the priorities of local demands.
Home Secretary Theresa May argues the commissioners will become the “voice of the people” and will be “visible, accessible and accountable”.
Labour is opposed to the creation of the new role but is fielding candidates across the forces, claiming it will do what it can to make the system work.
Some 54 of the 192 candidates standing are not linked to a political party.
A number of current and former politicians are standing, with by-elections sparked in Manchester Central and Cardiff South after Labour’s Tony Lloyd and Alun Michael quit parliament to stand.
Former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott is facing a close fight with Godfrey Bloom, Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire Ukip MEP, for the role of Humberside PCC.
The elections co-incided with voting for a mayor in Bristol, the result of a debacle earlier in the year that saw all other major English cities reject the concept. The fight there is seen as a head-to-head with the Labour candidate and independent architect George Ferguson.
Results for three by-elections will not be clear until the early hours and into Friday, with most attention likely to be focused on Corby, where Labour is expected to win following the departure of Tory incumbent Louise Mensch.