Westcountry voters go to the polls today for landmark police and crime commissioner elections that will shape the future of policing in the region.
Ten candidates, the most of any of the 41 elections nationwide, are fighting for the new £85,000-a-year post in Devon and Cornwall which is replacing the old police authority. All the main parties are represented, along with six independent candidates.
The powerful new commissioner, who will be elected for four years, will set the policing budget and agenda in the two counties and will be able to "hire and fire" the chief constable.
However, opponents have voiced fears about the possible politicisation of the police service and complaints about the shambolic handling of the election were still being made on the eve of the ballot.
Labour claimed yesterday that public awareness of the election remained low and blamed a lack of information from Government. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said the timing of the elections in November, during dark and cold weather, rather than in May, would make it harder for people to vote.
"The Government, as well as choosing to have the elections in November when they could have waited until May, have simply not provided people with proper information," she said.
"So when we are going around the streets talking to people, lots of people are saying, 'I just don't know what this is or what it is about'.
"They even set up a helpline that supposedly you could ring up and get information from, but that has not been working. So it has been a bit of a shambles."
Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said the commissioners would have a "really important" role and the Government had wanted to get the elections underway as quickly as possible.
"I think it is really important that people know a figurehead, a name of a person that they can turn to when they are concerned about crime and antisocial behaviour in their area. They want to know why the police are costing money on their council tax bill," he said. "This is somebody who will be directly accountable to them for the very first time."
More than 1,375 polling stations will be open across Devon and Cornwall until 10pm tonight.
The election is being held using the supplementary vote system. If no candidate has 50 per cent of the first-preference votes, the two highest-ranked candidates go forward to a second round.
In the second round of counting, the ballots indicating a first preference for a candidate who lost the first round are then re-allocated according to the voter's second preference.
The count is taking place at Carn Brea, in West Cornwall, tomorrow, with the result expected to be announced during the evening.