The Best of Ellis County is back and promises to be bigger, grander and, most importantly, more transparent than ever.

The Waxahachie Media group officially launched the annual search for the most outstanding business and services in the county on Wednesday with an online ballot. That rollout has now expanded into the Daily Light and Midlothian Mirror with the first of four special sections inserted into this Sunday's edition.

The Best of Ellis County recognition program, which has been a staple in the area for over a decade, affords the surrounding community and our avid readers to nominate and later vote on their favorite businesses in over 150 categories. The categories range from Best Breakfast to Best Place to Get an Oil Change or even Best Happy Hour and much, much more.

Colten Crist, director of operations and advertising for the Waxahachie Media Group, stated he is excited to partake in his first-ever dip into the Best of Ellis County process after joining the team in late February. He is also thrilled to help the WMG team bring a new, revamp process to the annual program.

"The Best of Ellis County is already one of the more popular and truly cherished recognitions in our area and it is an honor to be the media group that bestows that award," Crist said. "This year, in the sake of transparency and fairness to all of our local businesses, we are adding a nomination phase in addition to the standard voting process. We hope this addition and additional phase will reflect a more accurate representation of which businesses are truly the best of the best in Ellis County."

To put it plainly — there are now two rounds of voting.

The initial round began Wednesday and concludes July 31. This "nomination" phase is open to write-in votes for each of the categories.

The goal for businesses in this first round is the same as in years past, as the three businesses with the most nominations will move on to the second round of voting.

The special sections containing printed nomination ballots will be inserted into the Daily Light on Sunday, July 21, Wednesday, July 24 and Sunday, July 28, as well as in the Midlothian Mirror on Thursday, July 25.

All ballots need to be postmarked by Sunday, July 28 or returned to the Daily Light office by 5 p.m. Wednesday, July 31.

The second round of voting, which will only include the top-three vote-getters in each category from round one, begins Sept. 4 and concludes Sept. 18.

And the event and fun do not stop there.

The top-three businesses in each category will be invited to attend a first-of-its-kind gala at the Waxahachie Civic Center at a date and time to be announced. They will also be featured in a special edition magazine.

More information can be found at www.waxahachietx.com/bestofellis.