The New South Wales Legislative Council has been through repeated modifications since the public was first allowed to participate in its elections in 1978. (William Bowe explains them in full).

The last round of changes followed the unforgettable “tablecloth ballot” of 1999, and have resulted in probably the most democratic electoral system anywhere in Australia.

The main change was the abolition of “ticket” preferences. Voters can still allocate their own preferences (as many as they like) either below or – more radically – above the line, but if they don’t then their votes exhaust: there is no lodging of party preference distributions, and therefore no scope for shady deals and preference harvesting.

Since so few preferences are allocated, it effectively reduces to a “largest remainder” system. To work out who will get seats, just divide the parties’ percentages by the quota (1/22, or 4.545%); all the whole numbers yield seats, then allocate the remaining seats in descending order of the remainders until all 21 have been accounted for.

The result is roughly what would be produced by a European-style PR system, with the disadvantage of bigger ballots and greater complexity for the voters but the advantage of the (theoretical) possibility that preferences, either within or between tickets, could influence the results.

Legislative Councillors serve eight-year terms, so those retiring this time were elected in 1999, but the 2003 election is the one to look at in assessing prospects.

The 21 seats then divided as follows: ALP 10, Coalition 7 (5 Liberals, 2 Nationals, on a joint ticket), Greens 2, and one each to the Christian Democrats and the Shooters Party. Those who just missed out were, in order, Pauline Hanson, the Democrats, the official One Nation and the eighth Coalition candidate.

Even with a very small swing in its favor, the Coalition should pick up an eighth seat this time (which would be an extra National). The most likely result is that that gain will come at the expense of the Shooters Party, which is well down on the ballot paper (group N; last time it was group C) and doesn’t have a sitting member contesting. But if Labor’s vote slips by more than about 1%, then its tenth candidate will miss out, and the final seat would be up for grabs.

In that event, the nostalgia vote might just get the Democrats’ Arthur Chesterfield-Evans across the line, or the Shooters might hang on, the right-wing vote might be enough to elect either the Fishing Party or Australians Against Further Immigration (both of whom have favorable ballot draws), or there might be another dark horse somewhere. Totals for the new Legislative Council would be 19 Labor, 10 Liberals, 5 Nationals, 4 Greens, 2 Christian Dems, 1 Shooter and one doubtful.