BERLIN – The Latest on Germany's national election on Sunday (all times local):
Angela Merkel, who is seeking a fourth term as chancellor in Germany, has voted at a polling station near her home in Berlin's Mitte neighborhood.
Merkel and her husband Joachim Sauer, who shielded both of them with an umbrella against the cold drizzle, were surrounded by dozens of reporters as they cast their vote Sunday. The couple smiled and nodded at bystanders.
The chancellor's conservative bloc has a healthy lead in the polls. Surveys in the last week show Merkel's bloc leading with between 34 to 37 percent support, followed by the Social Democrats with 21 to 22 percent.
First exit polls are expected after German's polling stations close at 6 p.m. (1600GMT).
Chancellor Angela Merkel is widely expected to win a fourth term in office as Germans go to the polls in an election that is also likely to see the farthest right-wing party in 60 years, the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany, win seats in parliament.
Merkel has campaigned on her record as chancellor for 12 years, emphasizing the country's record-low unemployment, strong economic growth, balanced budget and growing international importance.
That's helped keep her conservative bloc well atop the polls ahead of Sunday's election over the center-left Social Democrats of challenger Martin Schulz.
Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic Party and its sister party, the Bavaria-only Christian Social Union, have governed Germany for the last four years with the Social Democrats in a "grand coalition." Most forecasts suggest that coalition will win another majority in Sunday's election outcome, but several different coalition government combinations could be possible.
The latest polls had Merkel's conservative bloc at 34 to 37 percent support, the center-left Social Democrats with 21 to 22 percent and the anti-migrant Alternative for Germany, or AfD, with 10 to 13 percent support.
Germany's president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, appealed to his fellow citizens to go out and vote, because "these elections are also about the future of democracy and the future of Europe."
Pollsters say many of the 61.5 million Germans who were eligible to vote had remained undecided until the very last moment.
Countries across Europe have seen a rise of anti-migrant and populist parties in recent elections and several German pollsters have forecast that the anti-migrant, anti-Europe Alternative for Germany may come in as Germany's third-strongest party.
The AfD appears assured of gaining seats in the national parliament for the first time.
The AfD has led an aggressive campaign that was dominated by hostile slogans against the more than 1 million mostly Muslim migrants who arrived in Germany in the last two years. They're aiming to grab votes from conservatives who in the past have voted for Chancellor Angela Merkel's party, but are unhappy with her welcoming stance toward refugees.
In addition to the Social Democrats and the AfD, the Greens, the Free Democratic Party and the Left Party were all poised to enter parliament with poll numbers between 8 and 11 percent.
David Rising and Kerstin Sopke contributed reporting from Berlin.