LONDON Millions of London voters were going to the polls on Thursday to choose a new mayor who will command a multi-billion pound budget and help prepare the capital for the 2012 Olympics.
After months of increasingly bitter campaigning, polling stations opened at 7.a.m. and the three main candidates cast their votes at schools around the city.
Current mayor Ken Livingstone voted near his home in Cricklewood, northwest London, while his Conservative rival Boris Johnson visited a polling station in Islington with his wife, Marina.
Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick cast his vote in Vauxhall.
Polls close at 10 p.m. on Thursday, the count starts at 9 a.m. on Friday and the result is expected about 12 hours later.
The winner will oversee the biggest investment in public transport infrastructure in decades. A major east-west rail line is to be built across the capital, while the city's underground Tube network is being overhauled.
The winner among the 10 candidates will also be responsible for London's congestion charge for cars entering central areas.
The mayor is head of London's government, with an 11.3 billion pound budget to run public transport, police and fire services and promote the capital's economy.
He or she will be the figurehead of the city in the run-up to the Olympics.
If one candidate wins more than 50 percent of the first choice votes, he or she will be the winner.
However, if no one wins half the vote, the two candidates with the most first choice votes will contest a second round.
Voters will also elect members of the London Assembly, the body which examines the mayor's plans and decisions and reviews the annual budget.
Some 4,000 seats on 160 councils are also at stake in local elections across England and Wales.
* For a full list of candidates and the latest news, reaction and blogs from the mayoral race, visit: here
(Reporting by Peter Griffiths; editing by Steve Addison)