Despite all the polls and punditry, only a few things can be predicted with absolute certainty about today's election, including that they will (eventually, perhaps) produce a winner, a loser, and a slew of electoral cartography for CNN's John King to play around with on a touch screen.
On election night, experts -- whether or not of the armchair variety -- will be poring over map after map of the states as they fall in the two main candidates' columns, and comment on patterns reversed or confirmed.
The political class's obsession with maps is a fleeting one, limited to the pre- and post-game analysis of elections. In the United States, the geographic battle lines are well known. The main questions: Will the 2012 results deepen the dichotomy between "red states" -- a contiguous bloc of Republican-voting states that covers most of the country -- and "blue states," a disparate collection of pro-Democrat enclaves bordering the Great Lakes and both coasts? Or will either color make inroads into the other side's territory? Maybe an unexpected new configuration of red and blue will emerge, perhaps resembling older geographic voting patterns?
Interpreting such voting patterns is the main business of political geography, a discipline that studies the strange marriage of geographical accident to the (relative) predictability of political preference.