Almost 90% of people cannot name the police and crime commissioner (PCC) for their area, according to a new poll.
The survey was carried out by the Electoral Reform Society, which said November's PCC elections "failed both candidates and voters alike".
PCCs, which replaced existing police authorities in 41 force areas across England and Wales, have the power to set force budgets and even hire and fire chief constables.
But the process was marred by a record-low turnout with only around one in seven bothering to go to the ballot box, prompting a detailed inquiry by the Electoral Commission.
In its report, the Electoral Reform Society described November's poll as "an exercise in how not to run an election".
The campaign group claimed people were "left in the dark about who they could vote for", while the turnout was reduced because the election was held in the winter. It also said candidates were kept away by "huge deposits, unclear eligibility rules, vast electoral districts and high campaign costs".
A survey of over 1,000 adults commissioned by the society found just 11% of people know who their elected PCC is.
The society made a number of recommendations for the next PCC election, which included not holding a poll in winter, ensuring a "level playing field for candidates through well-designed election rules", and posting information on the candidates to voters.
Last week electoral staff said voters were not at the heart of the PCC elections.
The Association of Electoral Administrators reported that information was not readily accessible and not well co-ordinated at a national level.