Italians began voting on Sunday in one of the most closely watched elections in years, with markets nervous about whether it will produce a strong government to pull Italy out of recession and help resolve the euro zone debt crisis.
Voters started casting their ballots at 0700 GMT. Polling booths will remain open until 2100 GMT on Sunday and between 0600-1400 GMT on Monday. Exit polls will come out soon after voting ends and official results are expected by early Tuesday.
Italy, the euro zone's third-largest economy, is stuck in a deep recession, struggling under a public debt burden second only to Greece's in the 17-member currency bloc and with a public weary of more than a year of harsh austerity policies.
Final polls published two weeks ago showed center-left leader Pier Luigi Bersani with a 5-point lead, but analysts disagree about whether he will be able to form a stable majority that can push though the economic reforms Italy needs.
Bersani is now thought to be just a few points ahead of center-right rival Silvio Berlusconi, the four-times prime minister who has promised tax refunds and staged a media blitz in an attempt to win back voters.
Surveys have shown up to 5 million voters are expected to make up their minds at the last minute, adding to the uncertainty.
Italy's Interior Ministry urged some 47 million eligible voters to not let bad weather forecasts put them off, and said it was prepared to handle snowy conditions in some northern regions to ensure everyone had a chance to vote.