Coombs' method

Instant-runoff voting Approval voting Borda count

Coombs' method (or the Coombs rule)[1] is a ranked voting system created by Clyde Coombs used for single-winner elections. Similarly to instant-runoff voting, it uses candidate elimination and redistribution of votes cast for that candidate until one candidate has a majority of votes.


Each voter rank-orders all of the candidates on their ballot. If at any time one candidate is ranked first (among non-eliminated candidates) by an absolute majority of the voters, that candidate wins. Otherwise, the candidate ranked last (again among non-eliminated candidates) by the largest number of (or a plurality of) voters is eliminated. Conversely, under instant-runoff voting, the candidate ranked first (among non-eliminated candidates) by the fewest voters is eliminated.

In some sources, the elimination proceeds regardless of whether any candidate is ranked first by a majority of voters, and the last candidate to be eliminated is the winner.[2] This variant of the method can result in a different winner than the former one (unlike in instant-runoff voting, where checking to see if any candidate is ranked first by a majority of voters is only a shortcut that does not affect the outcome).

An example

Tennessee and its four major cities: Memphis in the south-west; Nashville in the centre, Chattanooga in the south, and Knoxville in the east

Imagine that Tennessee is having an election on the location of its capital. The population of Tennessee is concentrated around its four major cities, which are spread throughout the state. For this example, suppose that the entire electorate lives in these four cities and that everyone wants to live as near to the capital as possible.

The candidates for the capital are:

The preferences of the voters would be divided like this:

42% of voters
(close to Memphis)
26% of voters
(close to Nashville)
15% of voters
(close to Chattanooga)
17% of voters
(close to Knoxville)
  1. Memphis
  2. Nashville
  3. Chattanooga
  4. Knoxville
  1. Nashville
  2. Chattanooga
  3. Knoxville
  4. Memphis
  1. Chattanooga
  2. Knoxville
  3. Nashville
  4. Memphis
  1. Knoxville
  2. Chattanooga
  3. Nashville
  4. Memphis

Assuming all of the voters vote sincerely (strategic voting is discussed below), the results would be as follows, by percentage:

Coombs' method election results
City Round 1 Round 2
First Last First Last
Memphis 42 58 42 0
Nashville 26 0 26 68
Chattanooga 15 0 15
Knoxville 17 42 17


The voting rounds used in the reality television program Survivor could be considered a variation of Coombs' method, with sequential voting rounds. Everyone votes for one candidate they support for elimination each round, and the candidate with a plurality of that vote is eliminated. A strategy difference is that sequential rounds of voting means the elimination choice is fixed in a ranked ballot Coombs' method until that candidate is eliminated.

Potential for strategic voting

The Coombs' method is vulnerable to three tactical voting strategies:[citation needed] compromising, push-over, and teaming. Coombs is sensitive to incomplete ballots, and how voters fill in the bottom of their ballots makes a big difference.[3]

See also


  1. ^ Grofman, Bernard, and Scott L. Feld (2004) "If you like the alternative vote (a.k.a. the instant runoff), then you ought to know about the Coombs rule," Electoral Studies 23:641-59.
  2. ^ Pacuit, Eric, "Voting Methods", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)
  3. ^ "Data on Manipulability"