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Readers' Choice '17 contest to introduce online voting

Staff report

The Paducah Sun's sixth annual Readers' Choice contest begins later this month with several significant changes.

The popular contest, which gives Sun readers the opportunity to vote for their favorite locally owned businesses in more than 100 categories, previously was conducted using printed ballots. The full-page ballots appeared during successive weeks in the newspaper.

This year for the first time the nomination and voting process will be conducted online via the newspaper's website, www.paducahsun.com.

Paducah Sun Publisher Jim Paxton said the revamp was a difficult decision given the success of the contest in its first five years.

"Among other things, having printed ballots sold a lot of extra newspapers for us," Paxton said. "Voting is similar to what you see with baseball's All-Star balloting -- you can vote as often as you want. Some participants would buy extra newspapers to do just that."

But tallying thousands of paper ballots generated by the contest was a logistical challenge. The newspaper typically hired two temporary employees every February to assist with the vote count.

Paxton said the success of an online project last fall to select the region's best football players by position led the newspaper's advertising staff to believe conducting Readers' Choice online might have advantages. The nomination and vote-tallying process could be automated and there could be better control over the voting process.

"The software we are using allows us to limit the votes coming from an individual internet IP address by day," he said. "It is still not a scientific poll, but it does level the playing field. You can't win a category by going out and buying 500 newspapers and voting for yourself 500 times."

Paxton said he believes the new format will be more convenient for readers and more fair to local businesses, but "if we're proven wrong about that we can always go back to the old way of doing things. It's like the contest itself -- the decision ultimately will be up to our readers."

Readers' Choice categories cover a wide range of "Best" selections, from "Best Accountant" to Best Yoga/Pilates."

Readers can nominate their favorites online from Jan. 26 through Feb. 7, and online voting will be conducted Feb. 8-23. The Sun will salute the top choices in each category in a special section published March 26.

Watch www.paducahsun.com for contest rules and further details.

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