Dire turnouts have threatened to undermine the first generation of police and crime commissioners (PCC) with as few as 10% of voters casting their ballots in some areas.
Fears of poor participation in the election of the new commissioners appeared to be confirmed as the first results came in, with Wiltshire declaring an overall turnout of 15.8%. But it was even lower in parts of the county, where Tory candidate Angus Macpherson was elected, with only 10.41% taking part in Devizes. Even in Humberside, where Lord Prescott's name on the ballot paper raised the profile of the election, turnout was only 19.48%.
Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper accused the Government of ignoring warnings of a low turnout and said the elections had been "a complete shambles".
Police Minister Damian Green said it would have been "better" if more people voted, but added: "The measure of this policy is not the turnout, it's what the police and crime commissioners achieve over the next few years."
Ms Cooper said: "We warned the Government repeatedly that they had the wrong approach and that turnout would be low. Theresa May and David Cameron didn't listen and it is shocking that they have spent £100 million on these elections rather than on 3,000 police constables instead."
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 a year, 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 Electoral Reform Society 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.
Asked if the expected low turnout would be a disaster, police and criminal justice minister Damian Green told ITV's Daybreak: "It's a new idea and as will all new ideas it will take some time to get going. It would be better if more people voted but I think people will get more interested, when you try something new it takes people time to get up to speed on it."
Fears of an overall low turnout were compounded as more figures came in from across the counts. In Coventry just 10.54% voted while West Yorkshire recorded 13.76% of the electorate casting a vote. In Lancashire the overall turnout was 15.5%, with just 12.1% of the electorate in Burnley voting.
Speaking at the PCC count in Lancashire, Blackburn MP Jack Straw said: "The turnouts are lamentable but that is the fault of the Government for constructing them in this system in the first place. It was almost as if the Conservatives were embarrassed by the idea of having these polls. Well, some may say they have got what they wished for.
The former home secretary added: "It was crazy to voluntarily choose mid-November for the election. It is cold, it is dark, the clocks have gone back. I was going around on a loudspeaker late yesterday afternoon - I have done this for 40 years - but in the end I gave up."