Last time I checked lead, pronounced with a short e, was a metallic substance and not the past tense of lead––long e. So why do I read lead so often where I should be reading led, not just in submissions but in respected newspapers?
"The suspect lead police on a high-speed chase."
Perhaps it is because it just doesn't look right? As a little three-letter word, led does seem more the proper spelling for the metal, while lead/lead appears to follow the rules of read/read. Though if red were the proper past tense of read, I'd be less likely to misread it as I often do. And now with LED, in caps, becoming common in referring to environmentally friendly lighting, we have another confusion thrown into the mix.
Going by how often I see lead where I should see led, I'm guessing the little word may be on the verge of becoming obsolete just as the term comprised of has come to replace the more proper comprised. As in, "the town comprised a courthouse and three shops"––only purists insist on that now––or the way the em-dash (as used in this sentence) has become more popular than parentheses or the word media is used by the media as both singular and plural.
In the end I predict led will lose because, after all, lead carries more weight.