Voting for England and Wales's first police and crime commissioners begins on Thursday under the most radical shake-up of the service in half a century.
Elections are being held in the 41 police areas outside London but experts claim turnout could be as low as 15% because of a combination of apathy, lack of awareness and dark, cold weather.
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.
Critics claim the reforms will lead to the politicisation of the police, with PCCs championing populist measures at the expense of less headline-worthy initiatives.
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 encouraged people not to vote, saying the posts were "very strange" because the police areas were too big for any individual to properly represent.
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 would 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.
Party sources say they do not expect to win the highest number of PCCs but are aiming to take control of most major forces and, therefore, the majority of policing outside London.
Just 54 of the 192 candidates standing are not being 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.
Voters will be able to list their first and second preferences under the supplementary vote system, which is being used in force areas where more than two candidates are standing.
The first-past-the-post system will be used in Dyfed-Powys, North Yorkshire and Staffordshire where just two candidates are vying for the new job.
Counting in Wiltshire will begin after polls close, with a result expected in the early hours, but all other areas will tally up tomorrow.
The government has come in for criticism for refusing to cover the cost of leafleting to give voters information about the new posts and basic details about the candidates standing for them. Instead, it set up a central website covering every candidate in England and Wales.
Information about all candidates is held at www.choosemypcc.org.uk
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