The deadline has just passed for our ninth annual Best of Bluff Country Readers' Choice contest and we are compiling results of our readers' picks for their favorites in Bluff Country. Perhaps next year we need to add a new category, best "best of." That's because all of a sudden there are several "best of" contests in our area.

"Best of" contests aren't all that unique. Alternative newspapers in the Twin Cities have had them for years and even the State Fair had one this year, called the People's Choice Awards, which, by the way, declared Carl's Gizmo Sandwich as the best food.

Still, ours was unique to this area. Now with a daily newspaper and another weekly publication doing the same thing, there is confusion about all the contests.

Our goal is to provide a unique voice to the area. It gets increasingly difficult as our projects become duplicated.

For example, we had been promoting the important role our emergency service providers, such as police, fire and ambulance, have in our communities through our Hometown Heroes project each September. Last year, a very similar promotion for nearly the same services was published, not coincidentally, the week before ours always appeared. That led to a lot of confusion among the service personnel and readers.

It's no wonder our readers are often confused as to what publications are in our group and even in what publication an article or advertisement appeared.

Despite the similarities of the "best of" promotions now, ours does have some unique characteristics.

For one thing, we don't tie ours to an advertising campaign. Our contest is just for fun with no goal of increasing revenue. Now, there's nothing wrong with advertising, since it pays the bills for all publishers, but we feel tying the two together when readers are voting for businesses that advertise may give the impression that there are strings attached. They may wonder if advertisers get special treatment or if the voting is rigged. I doubt that would happen, but appearances matter.

Although the method of voting varies by contest, we do allow online voting. In this day and age when there is even consideration of election voting online, we feel this is an obvious choice. People are used to expressing themselves online, even if many also prefer paper ballots.

Our online voting has been refined over the years and it prevents most duplicate voting, so there is no stuffing the ballot box by remaining at the computer for hours at a time. Even though we encourage visitors to vote since their preferences are also valid, more than 90 percent of our voters are local residents. We know that because most voters leave their name and address so they have a chance of winning our drawing.

Despite these modifications, we know this isn't a scientific poll. It's just a fun contest that draws quite a bit of interest and we hope to keep it fun without making it into something it's not.

However, we do take our role in providing a unique voice seriously. Our special projects will likely continue to be copied, but we won't stop coming up with projects that are new, or at least new to our readers.

The one area that no publication can duplicate, though, is our local news coverage. We go beyond the regular city council or school board meeting to provide a full range of local news every week.

We understand if you get confused about which newspaper is doing which project, but we hope you don't forget the newspaper that is always present at your community activities every week.

We aren't going to boast about how great we are or knock other publications. We'll just continue to work hard to cover our communities.

In the end, we realize it doesn't matter what we think about ourselves. You have all the power and you are the judge of which newspaper should be chosen as "the best," no matter how you show your vote.