Mattwalt: "just know - it could be a SOTM killer."
I don't think so, because it's one thing having long-term forum (fictive!) members Joe.Jack, and Jane voting, or even bullying (!!!) for each other to get the prize, and another ballgame altogether when you have a fairly vast number of voters consisting of forum members and non-forum members, because the likelihood of all non-members actually knowing each other to the extent that they would "lobby" for a forum friend is somewhat lower.
It's a bit like the difference between living in a small village where everyone knows each other, and living in a huge city where most people are largely anonymous. The problem with the village is that the chief and his cronies tend to get what they want, regardless of the "underlings".
Another way to put it is the classic "old boys network" where one hand rubs the other, as opposed to the wider, more amorphous public when it comes to voting on crucial issues in companies or in politics. According to the way you describe your past SOTM experiences, it seems as though the former must have ruled galore. :hmm:
As they say, nothing ventured is nothing gained: maybe it's worth trying another approach for a while. If it fails, simply revert to plan A (like now). However, the way forward will of course ultimately depend on whether the current forum members are happy with the present SOTM format or not.
I'm curious to see what the others think about this issue.