( dpa )- Voters in the western German states of Lower Saxony and Hesse were Sunday electing state legislatures in polls seen as forerunners for the federal elections next year.
In Lower Saxony, some 6.1 million are eligible to vote, while in Hesse the number is 4.4 million. The polls opened at 8.00 am and were to close at 6.00 pm.
In both states, Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats (CDU) have governed over the past five years.
CDU Premier Christian Wulff in Lower Saxony, at the head of a coalition with the minority liberals (FDP), is seen in opinion polls as likely to retain office.
In Hesse , CDU Premier Roland Koch, who has fought a divisive campaign targeting youth crime and foreign criminals in particular, faces a strong challenge from the Social Democrats (SPD).
In the last pre-election opinion poll, the SPD and CDU were level on 38 per cent, with neither able to form a coalition with their preferred partners, the FDP in the case of the CDU and the Greens in the case of the SPD.
The relatively new Left Party was being closely watched to see if it could clear the 5-per-cent hurdle to enter the parliaments of both states for the first time, as the pre-election polls suggested it could.
The party, regarded as a pariah in the western states, draws most of its support in the formerly communist east.