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For the past few years, we've tallied the Independent's annual Best Of ballots and looked forward to figuring it out: How many readers actually voted?

We've relished those numbers as they've grown, but we've chosen not to focus on a total anymore. As long as the number makes for a strong sample size, it really doesn't matter. Plus, the tally has often been confusing. Last year, for example, some thought that 8,200 people voted in all 200-plus categories.

Actually, we only require that each individual vote in at least 15 categories. That allows people to skip categories they don't feel strongly about, while preventing loyal customers and employees from casting a ballot for one business and nothing else.

We still wind up disqualifying many hundreds of ballots that include, say, fictitious contact information, or a single business being nominated for 30 awards. But we do our best to assure that each legitimate vote is counted.

Truth is, the most popular categories, such as Overall Restaurant, attract 4,000 or so legitimate votes. But even when, let's say, 750 readers pick the best restaurant or bar in their part of town, that's a lot. So we feel confident that when you try any one of the winners listed, starting on p. 23, you'll be glad you did.

With that in mind, as we send out the Best Of issues this week and next, we also send our sincere thanks to the thousands who care enough to vote properly. Especially those dedicated few who actually do fill in every category.

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