When your vote doesn't matter, try switching ballots

To be clear, we’re not talking about trying to throw the opposite party’s primary to the least electable candidate, which can easily backfire. Our proposal applies to races that either Democrats or Republicans know they will likely lose. In these circumstances, voters should try to influence how they will lose. Their ultimate goal should be to pull the other side toward their preferred ideological position.

Consider the recent Senate primary in Ohio. Democrats had an entirely uncompetitive race, with Representative Tim Ryan winning nearly 70 percent of the vote, handily defeating Morgan Harper, whose previous claim to fame was losing a Democratic congressional primary in the Columbus area in 2020. On the Republican side, however, polls showed a very close race with a crowded field, and early indications suggested that turnout would be relatively low. Ryan faces a tough general-election race; no Democrat not named Sherrod Brown has won a federal statewide election in Ohio in nearly a decade.

The most moderate candidate in the Republican field, state Senator and Cleveland Guardians part-owner Matt Dolan, who surged in the polls late in the race, came in third, trailing the Hillbilly Elegy author J. D. Vance, whom former President Donald Trump endorsed, by nearly 95,000 votes. At first, this seems like quite a large number of votes, and indeed it would have represented almost 40 percent of Dolan’s eventual vote total. But if just 20 percent of the more than 500,000 Democrats who voted in their primary had cast ballots for Dolan, a more moderate voice likely would have prevailed on the right, and Democrats would have increased their odds of being represented by a senator who shared at least some of their values. Instead, 500,000 Ohio Democrats cast a vote—more than 350,000 of them for Tim Ryan—in an election that wasn’t competitive at all.