Early voting is drawing to a close, and Election Day is coming up. We’ll have our Election Night coverage on WCHL at 7 pm Tuesday immediately after the PM news; Ron Stutts, Elizabeth Friend and I will be joined by Mark Chilton, DG Martin, Tom Jensen, and many of the candidates themselves as we watch the returns come in.

But since I’m writing a blog a day, let’s talk predictions right now! Twenty-four candidates in Orange County: who’s going to win?  (I’m currently in first place in our college football pick ’em contest, so my inner Nate Silver’s feeling pretty confident these days…)

Tom Stevens, Mark Kleinschmidt and Lydia Lavelle are running unopposed for the three mayoral seats, so they’re pretty safe bets (though there’s reportedly an under-the-radar write-in campaign for Tom Henkel in Chapel Hill). Incumbents almost always win, so Randee Haven-O’Donnell, Jacqueline Gist and Sammy Slade are all pretty safe in Carrboro. Ditto for James Barrett and Michelle Brownstein in the school-board race, and Ed Harrison and Sally Greene in Chapel Hill.

Beyond that, though, it’s never an easy thing to predict. For one thing, we have no poll numbers to rely on, as we would if this were a state or national race. For another, the differences between the candidates are all fairly narrow, so it’s hard to distinguish between them—even for those voters who make it a point to be attuned to local issues. I follow local politics for a living, and even I had to spend half an hour on Thursday reading candidate profiles before I went to the polls—and I’m still not sure I made the right call.

(Did I mention I was voter #666 at the Seymour Center? On Halloween, no less. True story.)

And of course turnout’s been extremely low too—so it’s not so much about which candidate has broader support as it is about which candidate’s supporters are particularly motivated to get to the polls. We won’t know that till Tuesday night.

Then again, we know enough about voters’ behavior in past elections that we can make some educated guesses. So here’s what we know, and here’s what it might mean:

INCUMBENCY. Except in unusual circumstances, incumbents almost never lose in Orange County. That’s notable in Chapel Hill this year, where Sally Greene and Ed Harrison were both running fairly low-key campaigns until the final week. Jim Ward did the same thing in 2011: he spent no money, put up no yard signs, and sent out no mailings, declaring that his record spoke for itself and if that wasn’t good enough he shouldn’t win anyway. He won easily. Expect similar results on Tuesday. (Ditto Carrboro: Kurt Stolka is a strong candidate for Carrboro Alderman, but it’ll be a surprise if he’s able to unseat one of the three incumbents.)

2011 REDUX! This year’s race for Town Council is playing out almost exactly as it did in 2011: nine candidates running for four seats, of which six of the candidates are well-known commodities running strong campaigns and the other three are relative longshots. In 2011 the six strong candidates were Ward, Bell, Czajkowski, Storrow, Baker and DeHart; this year, the six strong candidates appear to be Sally Greene, Ed Harrison, George Cianciolo, Maria Palmer, Amy Ryan*—and Loren Hintz, who may have started as more of a longshot but has run an impressive campaign. (Shades of Lee Storrow?)

It’s a fairly safe bet that four of those six will win on Tuesday, but beyond that it’s hard to predict. Take Jon DeHart, for instance: by most accounts, he ran a much stronger campaign in 2011 than he did in 2009—and somehow ended up with fewer votes. There’s an extent to which this is kind of a crapshoot.

ENDORSEMENTS. All the key endorsements in the Town Council race have been divided among the Big Six: Indy Week endorsed Greene, Harrison, Palmer and Cianciolo; the AFL-CIO endorsed Greene, Harrison, Palmer and Hintz; the Sierra Club endorsed Greene, Harrison, Cianciolo, Hintz and Ryan; and the Triangle Apartment Association endorsed Harrison and Cianciolo. (Only two? Slackers!)

That’s a clean sweep for Harrison and three out of four for Greene and Cianciolo; Harrison and Cianciolo both have a long list of personal endorsements on their websites as well. Hintz got two endorsements, Ryan only got one—and that’s significant too, since I imagine Ryan started out the campaign as more of a favorite than Hintz.

The most interesting thing here, though, is how it shakes out for Maria Palmer. The Indy Week endorsements are always the most important, so Palmer gets a huge boost there—but the Sierra Club endorsed everyone but Palmer, so that’s a bit of a snub. (People have joshed the Sierra Club for picking five candidates—“not very helpful, guys!”—but I think the real message there is in whom they’re not endorsing.)

We don’t endorse candidates on WCHL, of course—I’m making predictions here, not endorsements, and this is only my opinion anyway. But remember, we will have our Election Night coverage on Tuesday immediately after the PM news; Ron Stutts, Elizabeth Friend and I will be joined by Mark Chilton, DG Martin, Tom Jensen, and many of the candidates themselves as we watch the returns come in. Check it!

CAMPAIGNING. It’s been a low-key campaign all around, but the most active campaigner for Town Council has been George Cianciolo. Maria Palmer and Loren Hintz have also run relatively strong campaigns (though in a different year they might have flown under the radar). Sally Greene and Ed Harrison seem mostly content to let their records speak for themselves, but they’re still both campaigning more actively than Jim Ward did in 2011.

When all is said and done, though, I think the most noteworthy thing about this campaign may be the presence of “Lydia Lavelle For Mayor” yard signs. Why do those even exist?

TURNOUT. No way around it: early voting turnout has been low. So low, in fact, that on Friday Lee Storrow took to Facebook to urge people to vote at Rams Head Dining Hall, lest the Board of Elections decide it’s not worth it to have early voting there next year.

But what does this mean for the outcome on Tuesday?

(Well, for one thing, it means anyone who can list more than 150 personal endorsements on their website has a pretty good head start. Good news for Ed and George.)

Beyond that, I’m going to guess—pure speculation here—that it means turnout is going to be limited primarily to those who are actively engaged in local government. That means activists, community leaders, friends of the candidates themselves, and folks who may not be regular activists but who happen to be riled up about a specific local issue in particular. Activists and community leaders alike seem to support Sally Greene and Ed Harrison; George Cianciolo has the community-leader vote on lock (plus many activists); and Maria Palmer and Loren Hintz both appeal to activists (plus many community leaders).

(There’s also quite a bit of overlap between “community leaders” and “activists.” These aren’t exactly rigid scientific categories.)

But the real wild card here is Amy Ryan, because…

CENTRAL WEST. For better or worse, there are a lot of people who are very upset about Central West—not just about the plans that are on the table, but also about the process itself. Presumably many of those people are going to be motivated to vote, and not for the status quo. To whom will they turn?

Amy Ryan seems to be the likeliest choice: she’s campaigning against heavy density, she’s uncomfortable with radical redevelopments, and she’s not thrilled about how Chapel Hill 2020’s being implemented. But—she’s also the co-chair of the Central West Steering Committee, which has been the target of a lot of this ire.  A weird situation: the voters most likely to be attracted to Ryan right now may also be the voters most likely to be opposed to her. And I don’t know how that’s going to play out on Tuesday. (This may turn out to help Paul Neebe.)

But it’s safe to say Central West will be a pretty significant factor in the outcome this year, one way or another—especially with low turnout. I’ll be interested to see how turnout breaks down from precinct to precinct; I bet you’ll see a higher percentage in the precincts around Estes and MLK.

AND TO SUM UP? The lower the turnout, the more unpredictable the outcome. (A lesson Bart Simpson once learned, to his great chagrin.) So we’re still in an anything-could-happen situation, even with Election Day so close. But three days out, I’ll make these predictions:

In Carrboro, Lydia Lavelle beats random write-ins by a 92-8 margin to become mayor. The three incumbents win reelection fairly easily, with Kurt Stolka beating Al Vickers for fourth.

In Hillsborough, Tom Stevens wins reelection as mayor by a similar margin. Jenn Weaver finishes first in the race for Board of Commissioners.

James Barrett and Michelle Brownstein are reelected to the CHCCS School Board. I’ll go ahead and call Andrew Davidson over Ignacio Tzoumas for the third spot, but that’s still practically a coin flip.

In Chapel Hill, Mark Kleinschmidt is reelected by a slightly-narrower-but-still-enormous margin. Incumbents Greene and Harrison are reelected to Town Council; Cianciolo also elected. The fourth spot? A toss-up between Ryan, Hintz and Palmer, and way too close to call. That’s the outcome I’m anticipating the most on Tuesday.

And by the way, speaking of Tuesday…tune into WCHL for our Election Night coverage, starting right at 7 pm Tuesday after the PM news; Ron Stutts, Elizabeth Friend and I will be joined by Mark Chilton, DG Martin, Tom Jensen, and many of the candidates themselves as we watch the returns come in.

(I’m good at shameless plugs. I really should run for office someday.)

* – Who, if she gets elected, will have a very awkward Town email address.