Given the often very limited policy offerings of major parties competing for their version of the middle ground, many people may well be looking for a Senate vote that represents broader views. In the past, the balance of power role has allowed Democrats and Greens and the occasional independents to add to the rather limited views of the major parties, when these did not agree.

The signs are, unfortunately, that post-election, there may be many more areas of agreement than I would feel comfortable about. However, the cross benchers will still hopefully be able to add some interest to the mix so for many, senate voting is often different to the reps.

There are assumptions that the balance will be held by the Greens but given the complexities of Senate voting, the odd upset, such as Steve Fielding in 2004, can occur through a bad preference decision by the ALP.  Therefore, concerned responsible voters should be prepared to check the process before voting next Saturday.

Beware the traps of above-the-line voting. Your leftover votes may go to someone you neither intended to preference nor wanted then to benefit in any way. For instance, few people realise that candidates can lodge more than one preference card. If they lodge two or three, all their unused first-preference votes will be split proportionately across the lists. Few people realise this, and some also do not check who their chosen first preferred group has designated. So I decided to do some checking on the election website to see what was happening.

The good news is that major parties seem to have given up multiple preference deals and have one option only. There is also a Greens-ALP deal that means the ALP puts them before the Coalition and vice versa in each state and territory.

What is, however, interesting for those voters who are a bit anti the big parties and not so keen on the Greens, is that there are some unexpected allocations and split tickets among other possible candidates for selection.

For instance, Cheryl Kernot, who may hope to attract a sentimental vote in NSW, has two preference tickets, one placing the ALP above the Coalition and the other reversing the order. This means your vote could go to either.

The Democrats have also split their votes similarly in NSW and in most other states, either via two preference tickets or mixing the candidate numbers so each gets half. The exceptions are the ACT where they clearly preference the Liberal and Victoria where they preference the ALP. An oddly mixed approach from a party trying to re-place itself on a political spectrum.

The Carers Party has similarly split its votes between ALP and Coalition wherever it is running. These split tactics by both could discourage sympathetic voters who want to ensure where their preferences go. It seems to be mildly deceptive unless they make it very clear on their how-to-vote cards.

Family First are at least consistent in always placing the Coalition above the ALP and being very clearly anti-Greens and pro-Christian conservative minor groups.

In case the Socialist Equality Party brings a rush of youthful nostalgia, please note they have three-way tickets, some of which preference the Coalition before anyone else. The Socialist Alliance is, however, consistently left in its allocations. Another oddity is in WA the Nationals don’t immediately preference the Liberals, the only separate ticket they have.

Does it matter? Given the complexity of the Senate counting, I wouldn’t try to guess. If the last seat is in contention, the distribution of minor party preferences can count. Many have preferenced the Carers, as they seem innocuous. Others from the more left and right sides have preferenced the Democrats, which is probably why they split their ticket. So maybe like Steve Fielding, either could come through the confusion. The counting of votes in the senate continues until there are enough candidates with a quota. So excess from major parties may go on to minor parties when their lower level candidates fail to meet a quota, and minor parties drop out from the bottom up and their second and subsequent preferences come into play.

So if you want to be sure who you are voting for, vote below the line and fill in each square with a number. I am one of the relatively few people who started doing it years ago so I could break up the groups and pick out those people I thought were better than others.

When I realised recently that there were no copies of the preference deals available at the booths, I felt I had to continue to take control over my votes. It can be very tedious when there are many independents and minor groups, as seems to happen particularly in NSW but imagine if someone you loathed got in on your possible preference! Think about it!