THOUSANDS of Wearsiders go to the polls today to pick councillors and have their say on proposed changes to the way MPs are elected.
A total of 123 polling stations opened across Sunderland at 7am, with ballot boxes closing at 10pm tonight.
A third of Sunderland Council’s 75 members are up for election this year, one for each of the city’s 25 wards.
There will also be one extra councillor elected in Sandhill ward, which is having a double election after former Mayor Jim Scott retired early.
There are no council elections in County Durham this year, but voters are taking part in the alternative vote (AV) referendum.
Many people have already cast their ballot. There are 215,715 people on the Sunderland electoral register and 85,158 have chosen to vote by post.
More than 51,000 postal ballot packs have already been returned.Anyone yet to return their postal vote can still use it by taking it to their polling station or the civic centre by 10pm.
Libraries, schools, community centres and even XL Youth Villages are being used as polling stations for people who want to cast their ballot in person.
The council elections count will start at the Sunderland Tennis Centre, Silksworth, once polls close at 10pm.
The count for the AV referendum begins at 4pm tomorrow, also at the tennis centre.
Sunderland has been chosen to co-ordinate the North East result, and council chief executive Dave Smith has been appointed regional counting officer.
Some Lib Dem supporters fear their party will take a drubbing at the polls nationally, as voters voice their anger at its MPs’ decision to join the Tories in a Coalition Government.
But Sunderland’s only Lib Dem councillor is not up for election this year.
Labour supporters in Sunderland and elsewhere hope to take seats from the Conservatives, counting on dissatisfaction with Government funding cuts.
In the Sunderland wards of Houghton and Copt Hill, Labour and the independents have been fighting in a straight race, with no candidates from other parties to split the vote.
As well as the AV referendum and Sunderland Council elections, there are local government elections in nine other areas, including South Tyneside.
Voters in Middlesbrough will also decide on who will serve as their next directly-elected mayor.