Turnout was high Sunday as voters in three German states participated in elections in three states, a key chance for about 13 million Germans to hand down their verdict on Chancellor Angela Merkel's handling of the refugee crisis.

Although Merkel's name is on none of the ballots, the poll will be a chance for voters to show their feelings about her insistence on keeping German borders open despite the arrival of about 1 million asylum seekers in 2015 by choosing to back her Christian Democrats (CDU) or opting for opposing groups.

The influx of people has led many to worry about the ability of German society to absorb so many, as well as the ability of the German economy to keep humming along if the newcomers require large amounts of assistance. The dynamic has seen many traditional voters from the CDU shifting to the right to support the Alternative for Germany (AfD).

But the pain is being felt on both sides of the political spectrum, with the centre-right Social Democrats (SPD) also seeing supporters fleeing to the AfD camp.

Initial results had voter turnout higher than in previous polls in the region.

By the end of morning, 44 per cent of voters has cast their in ballots by postal vote in the western state of Rhineland-Palatinate, where the SPD are neck-and-neck race with Merkel's conservative CDU, state election officials said.

Voter turnout was also up on the last elections in 2011 in the neighbouring state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, as well as in Saxony-Anhalt in the east.

By midday, 25 per cent of voters had cast their ballots in the economically hard-pressed Saxony-Anhalt, where the right-wing populist AfD had made a strong showing in opinion polls in the run-up to the election, the state statistics office said.

This was higher than the 19.8 per cent who had voted by the same time in the election five years ago.

The polls released ahead of Sunday's election also point to the anti-foreigner AfD surging in the state legislatures in Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate.

Turnout came in more than in the 2011 election in large cities in the wealthy state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, which is home to some of Germany's leading corporate brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Hugo Boss and Porsche, officials said.

Baden-Wuerttemberg's popular Green Party Premier Winfried Kretschmann hopes the election will result in Greens for the first time becoming the biggest party in a German parliament.

However, election researchers cautioned about drawing conclusions from the early voter turnover figures.

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