The home secretary has been warned that the forthcoming police and crime commissioner elections could result in the lowest turnout in British history.
With 50 days until polling day, 20 candidates have sent Theresa May an open letter urging her to rethink how the elections are being run.
Turnout could be "rock bottom" they say but better information on candidates and TV broadcasts could improve it.
The coalition said it had been promoting the elections for two years.
And a government national advertising campaign, including television and radio adverts, is expected to launch in October.
The letter, organised by the Electoral Reform Society and published in the Daily Telegraph, says: "Police and crime commissioners want the chance to speak for local people.
"This will be impossible with rock bottom turnout and as the Police Federation have warned; low turnouts can also open the door to extreme candidates.
"All we ask is a level playing field for candidates and the chance for voters to make an informed decision."
To boost turnout in the elections - which take place on 15 November - the letter recommends including candidate information in a mass mail-out already planned by the Electoral Commission. It also says "taking to the airwaves" with TV and radio broadcasts would help raise awareness.
Finally, the letter urges the government to rule out holding "a major election in the winter again," where darker evenings are thought to put voters off going to the polling station.
Signatories to the letter include former Lib Dem London mayoral candidate Brian Paddick - also a former deputy assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan Police - and Labour MP Alun Michael who is standing to be the commissioner in South Wales.
Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said the elections were in "serious danger of descending into a farce".
She said: "The Home Office seems to think that if you build it, they will come, but this isn't how elections work.
"If the home secretary is serious about people having a say, she needs to listen to the warnings coming from all sides and take action now."
A Home Office spokesman said: "We have been publicising PCCs and their benefits to local communities for more than two years.
"A national advertising campaign, including television and radio adverts, will launch in October and every registered voter will receive details of a dedicated website with information on each candidate.
"Those details can also be requested in written form through a free phone line which will be included on all election literature."
Alex Robertson, director of communications at the Electoral Commission, said: "The Electoral Commission will be sending a booklet with factual information to 21 million households in England and Wales from 22 October - the same day we launch our public awareness campaign. This booklet has been planned since September 2011.
"Our booklet has all the information voters need to cast their vote with confidence including what the PCC elections are for and how to vote in them.
"It will also contain details of the government's candidate information website and telephone number where voters can request printed information about candidates."