Hey, you! Yes, you there, the one eating the empanada and looking confused! Are you tired of being That Guy at your annual election party? (I'm just going to assume everyone goes to election parties.) Tired of being the guy who breathlessly retweets the "vote totals" that show your guy winning with 1 percent of precincts in, when you don't even know what precincts?
You're in luck. With the help of my colleague Emma Roller, I've put together a short guide to tonight's elections, how to watch them, who may win, and the weird results that might matter. I've included some guesses about the margins, so I can look stupid on Wednesday. And please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have more smart local reporters/pols to follow on Twitter.
(All times are Eastern Standard Time, because like most journalists I am an East Coast elitist.)
7 p.m. Polls close in Virginia. The best source for results (at the link) is the official elections site, one of the best in the country, up there with California's. (Why doesn't some other state copy California's great real-time map?)
What to watch: The race for governor pits Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli against Democratic fixer Terry McAuliffe and Libertarian Robert Sarvis. Cuccinelli's campaign has gone so poorly that we're in week three or four of fellow Republicans eulogizing him on the record. He is not helped by his lieutenant governor nominee, E.W. Jackson, a fluke candidate who never would have survived a vetting but dazzled Republicans at the state convention. (Fun fact: E.W. Jackson is holding his own, separate election party tonight, near but not at Cuccinelli's.) Republicans are hoping to elect Mark Obenshain to replace Cuccinelli as AG. If they win that race, and lose only a handful of legislative seats, they'll cut their losses and spin away.
Where to look: Loudoun County.* Prince William County, by general agreement, is now the state's bellwether, a collection of sprawl and nature just a short (well, 30–45 minute) drive from D.C. But Loudoun County is better at mirroring election results statewide. Obama won it by 5 points in 2012; Gov. Bob McDonnell won it by 22 points in 2009. Cuccinelli represented part of the county for years, and grabbed 59 percent of its vote when he won the 2009 attorney general race. If he's rolling in the 40s there, he's going down like the polls say he is.
My guesses: McAuliffe 51, Cuccinelli 44, Sarvis 5; Herring narrowly defeats Obenshain.
7:30 p.m. Polls close in North Carolina, where Democrats would sure like to retain the mayor's office in Charlotte—left open so rising-star black mayor Anthony Foxx could become secretary of transporation.
What to watch: How high will Chris Christie make the rubble bounce, and will conservatives beat the Chamber of Commerce? Christie's run a perfect re-election race, defining opponent Barbara Buono in the spring (when she had no money), staging the special Senate race early so it wouldn't bring out more Democrats today, and campaigning like a natural. Democrats figured early on that they couldn't beat him, so they poured a historic amount of money—eight figures—into state legislative races.
Where to look: Christie narrowly lost Bergen County when he narrowly won the 2009 race, so you could watch that, but there's no real drama. Look instead at legislative Districts 3, 14, 18, and 38, where the governor made a late push for his candidates. If he has coattails, that's where they fall.
My guesses: Christie 62, Buono 37, others 1, with Democrats holding the legislature. Byrne 51, Young 49.
What to watch: Detroit might elect a white mayor. Colorado voters in 11 conservative counties may vote to secede. (They would need Congress to sign off, so good luck.) Houston voters will probably re-elect a lesbian mayor, Annise Parker.* But everyone will obsess, rightly, over New York, which will return to Democratic rule for the first time since 1993. The city's only competitive race: Brooklyn DA, a contest that pits the embittered incumbent, Joe Hynes, against his Democratic primary vanquisher, Kevin Thompson. (Hynes had the Republican line, too, just in case.)
Where to look? If you're really into this, watch the races outside New York City—the ones for county leadership jobs in the collar counties of Westchester and Nassau. Democrats took control there at the end of the Bush years, but were rolled back in 2009. Republicans want to hold the congressional seats they have in upstate New York and want to take some in Long Island.
My guesses: De Blasio 70, Lhota 26, others 4. I think this would actually represent a better Republican vote than what Mitt Romney got in New York City.
11 p.m. Bonus round, of sorts. If you still care, elections in Washington state wrap up, with Democrats attempting to win control of the state Senate—they lost it in a coup after approving gay marriage. Here I won't even pretend to have followed the details of the race, so I won't make a prediction—horrible punditry, I know.
Also, seriously: Don't just get excited when tiny portions of the vote come in. I've seen so many Republicans end up brokenhearted when they're "winning" Virginia before realizing that the Democratic suburbs come in late.
*Correction, Nov. 5, 2013: This post originally misspelled Loudoun County, Va. It also misspelled Houston Mayor Annise Parker's first name.