FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) – Kentucky’s highly unpopular license plate featuring a smiling, rising sun has outshined the competition in a national contest.

The Automobile License Plate Collectors Association gave the 2003 Best License Plate Award to Kentucky, which introduced the new design last year. An award ceremony was held Tuesday at the Transportation Cabinet in Frankfort.

Kentucky beat out Maine’s special-issue lobster plate 80-79 among 513 votes cast by association members. The “God Bless America” special-issue plate in Texas received 77 votes. It was Kentucky’s first top finish in the contest.

“If you lined up all 50 United States and the District of Columbia and looked at their general-issue (plates), the one that pops the most is Kentucky,” said Tim Stentiford, director of the association’s contest. “The dramatic colors, the crisp, clear state legend in a distinctive font at the top, and the smiling sun – love it or hate it – it really does stand out in the crowd.”

Many Kentuckians don’t like the smiley-face plate, and specialty plate sales increased significantly after it was introduced. It is not scheduled for replacement until 2008.

The Stratford, Conn.-based association judged 200 new U.S. license plates on three criteria: attractiveness, legibility and how well they promote their state.

Dick Murgatroyd, deputy secretary of the Transportation Cabinet, said he thinks the award boosts Kentucky’s image.

“We’re a friendly state, we’re a warm state, we’re a state that welcomes people,” he said. “It has created the kind of image we want Kentucky to be known for.”

AP-ES-07-14-04 1507EDT

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