The Government's handling of the first elections to the post of police and crime commissioner was branded a "comedy of errors" as voters went to the polls across England and Wales.
The Electoral Reform Society said polling stations were "standing empty", and called for those responsible for "avoidable errors" in the delivery of the elections to be held to account.
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 but experts are forecasting a low turnout, due to a combination of apathy, lack of awareness and dark, cold weather.
The Electoral Reform Society has predicted a turnout of 18.5%, which would be below the previous record low in a national poll in peacetime of 23% in the 1999 European elections.
The society's chief executive Katie Ghose said: "This election has been a comedy of errors from start to finish. Polling stations are standing empty because voters knew next to nothing about the role, let alone the candidates they were expected to pick from.
"The Home Office has operated under the assumption that 'if you build it they will come'. Democracy just doesn't work that way. There have been avoidable errors at every step, and those responsible should be held to account."
Critics claim the police reforms will lead to the politicisation of the service, with police and crime commissioners (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.
But supporters insist it will improve accountability among police forces and make them more aware of the priorities of local demands.