I have been reading a lot about the 2010 Federal Election. Of course, without some of the online sources available, sometimes the pickings are a bit thin. Even thinner than the pickings, though, is the breadth of opinion one finds in various newspaper comment sections and blog comments. I've come to the conclusion that while various news outlets are not necessarily overtly politically biased (to my generous eye, anyway), the readers and followers of said outlets invariably are. Andrew Bolt's blog seems populated by right-wing climate sceptics and what in the US would be called libertarians, while the ABC's blog site The Drum seems overrun with left-leaning Labor and Green followers.
One common feature I have noticed amongst these commentariats, and one of the most remarkable things I have seen in the aftermath of the election and the frankly quite interesting and engrossing numbers game that has evolved is the ignorance about how the Australian Electoral System works. In addition, it seems that so many people, including some presenters I have seen on the more "info-tainment" free-to-air channels don't understand how the Government is formed or the role of the Governor-General and the history of such things. While sometimes these things do seem a bit arcane, and are probably not all that interesting, except to people like me, they are part of the cornerstone of Australian Government and like it or not, the results of these uninteresting and arcane processes will end up affecting people's lives on a day-to-day basis. Perhaps the lack of education in what used to be called Social Studies or Civics is to blame. Or maybe people just don't care. In the instant-result world we live in, they want to know who won, who lost, and then move on to "what is the next dish on Master Chef" or some other sixty-minute advertorial.
The other commonality is that I am seeing are people on all sides of the ideological divides complaining that the preferential voting system is "unfair" (that is, we didn't win with it this time). Then there is the other complaint about compulsory voting being unfair, undemocratic, or that compulsory voting means that the stupid and the ignorant come out to vote. Of course the stupid and the ignorant seem to always support the other side, and "something should be done", as if disenfranchisement is the logical solution. The reality is that all voting systems have problems, and "proper representation" or "fair representation" to some degree depends on what criteria you use to determine this. And compulsory voting has both its good points and its drawbacks.
I don't know the answers as to what is fair or just or best. What I do know is that an engaged electorate who understand the system should be best-placed to decide these things for themselves. And to that end, education is not the answer, but may be an answer.
The Australian Electoral Commission web site has some great resources, including a couple of videos that explain the counting of votes in both Houses. (I love how the Senate votes are counted). And Wikipedia, the font of some knowledge (much of it accurate) has a starting point on different types of voting systems.