In addition to the elections this Saturday that will determine government in South Australia and Tasmania, South Australians also vote to elect their Legislative Council, the second most democratic house of parliament in Australia.

What makes it democratic is that the whole state votes as one electorate, electing 11 members every four years (for eight-year terms), so the quota for election is 8.3% of the vote. What makes it less democratic than the New South Wales upper house is that it uses a ticket system or “above the line” voting, so preferences are mostly distributed according to the wishes of the party machines, not the voters.

Those preference tickets have now been published by the SA Electoral Commission, and in slightly more user-friendly form  on the ABC website. Anyone planning to vote above the line should make a point of studying them: otherwise you are voting blind, and blind voting can have unexpected effects — just ask Steve Fielding.

The last Legislative Council election was made noteworthy by the extraordinary performance of anti-pokies independent Nick Xenophon, who received more than 20% of the vote — easily electing himself and a running mate, with almost half a quota to spare. The other nine seats went four ALP, three Liberal, and one each to Family First and the Greens.

With no Xenophon in the race this time, it’s universally expected that the Liberals will win a fourth seat, but the eleventh spot is wide open. This is the sort of election in which a hitherto-unknown minor party or independent can harvest enough preferences to reach the later stages of the count and, with luck, win a seat — as groups such as the Outdoor Recreation Party and “A Better Future for our Children” did in NSW before they abolished ticket voting.

However, that seems unlikely this time around in South Australia — partly because 8.3% is a bigger target than the 4.5% required in NSW, but also because none of the lesser candidates seems to have a particularly favorable position on preferences.

The minor parties that seem to be getting most attention are Dignity for Disability, the Save RAH [Royal Adelaide Hospital] Party, and Independent SA Fishing and Lifestyle. There are also the Democrats, still clinging if not to life then to a sort of afterlife, and incumbent ex-Democrat David Winderlich, standing as “Communities Against Corruption”.

But none of these are swapping preferences very effectively. Dignify for Disability, Winderlich and the Democrats are mostly swapping preferences, but their votes then go to the Greens or Family First ahead of Save RAH. Save RAH and Fishing & Lifestyle both go straight to Family First, as do several smaller groups — plus, of course, anything left over from the Liberal ticket.

This means that unless their vote collapses dramatically, Family First is pretty much assured of a seat. (The major parties should get far more grief than they do for giving preferences to the extremists of the Assemblies of God party — Labor is little better, going to Family First straight after the Greens.)  But there’s not likely to be anything to spare to help any of the other minor parties.

That leaves the most likely result as a fifth seat for whichever of the major parties is having a good day — as the Liberals did in 2002, and Labor would have last time were it not for Xenophon — although if the Greens do well enough to generate a surplus, it’s possible they might elect a Democrat or Dignity for Disability. So the new Legislative Council should be eight Labor, seven Liberal, two Greens, two Family First, two Xenophonites and one doubtful.