London -

Votes were being counted on Friday for Britain's first ever elected police and crime commissioners, but turnout was reported to be as low as 10 percent in some areas, a historic low.

The new officials will set budgets and priorities and have the power to sack their chief constables in the biggest shake-up in British policing for 50 years, but the elections have failed to capture the public's imagination.

Independent campaigning organisation the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) called Thursday's vote a “comedy of errors” and pointed to polling stations “standing empty”.

Twitter users reported 10 percent turnout in some areas, below the ERS's predicted 18.5 percent, which in itself would be the lowest turnout in British polling history.

The society's chief executive, Katie Ghose, said the interior ministry had “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,” she added.

Commissioners will be appointed for all 41 police forces across England and Wales except in London.

The commissioners, who will serve four-year terms, will be expected to hold the force to account and act as a public face for crime-fighting in each area.

Critics have accused the government of failing to publicise the vote, a key manifesto promise of Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party before it came to power in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats in 2010.

The lack of public enthusiasm has also been blamed on everything from the dreary November chill to the dearth of big names running for office, with the exception of the former deputy prime minister John Prescott.

Turnout in British elections has fallen dramatically in recent decades - and in a further sign of apathy, voters in nine cities in May rejected the introduction of elected mayors.

Votes will be counted in all but one area on Friday, with the winning candidates assuming office on November 22. - Sapa-AFP