Ok, now that I am home a few thoughts....I speak here as a member of the maunch who will not participate on the polling lists because of the nasty, judgmental commentary. In fact, I no longer care about any of the SCA awards (exception of Baronial awards. Those matter more to me for some reason.) I speak also as A&S competitor and judge, more than a few times for both.
First, the idea that A&S competitions are about getting noticed and counting toward a laurel, is fundamentally flawed. Its not, or rather it should not, be viewed that way. The idea that everything we do is about getting recognized and awarded is insulting both to a competitor and the order of laurels/maunches. You do embroidery because you love it. You look forward to it each and every day (or SOCKS ON ALL THE PEOPLE). This is what drives you. You literately light up when you talk about it. Its wonderful to see and talk to you about. A competition or display should provide you a place to share your work, both to get feedback from those who do your thing, and to inspire those who are not as good at it as you are. It also can provide you with a "hard deadline" or "goal" to help motivate you to push yourself. To imply that you are delayed in reaching your laurel because you no longer do competitions or displays is insulting and demeaning to your efforts. If someone told you that you could never get a laurel in embroidery would you give it up and try something else or would you give up the laurel? (not even a hard question to answer, really.)
Second, I hate to see that ONE voice, no matter how good or bad, has that much power over you. I encourage you to enter again if you can get something good out of a competition or display. Or if you can give something good. As I said above displays can be also about helping and inspiring others too. However competitions are not the only way to get feedback and I know you have that covered.
So I don't see this as a broken system of competitions and judges (although we could certainly work on judging and competing skills, says the teacher who is teaching those skills at Pennsic this year...). This is a symptom of a broken award structure in the East Kingdom (and perhaps the larger SCA, although it is harder for me to speak to this personally.) We assume that if you do arts and sciences in some public way that you intend working for a laurel or other awards. This is not always the case. We assume that the best way to spur artistic endeavors is to reward them publicly, which is not always true either, although encouragement is helpful. We assume that competition brings out the best in people. Not always true either. Its as if we are mimicking the fighting field in the A&S environment. We assume that though anonymous judging in both competitions and in polling orders, we are able to speak with honesty. When we do so, mentors become lawyers, voters become judges and not mentors, and communication breaks down between those who have an award and someone they are considering for inclusion in the order (as if there was any communication to begin with...grrrrr).
A judge/voter/expert in any SCA environment, is not a critic, but rather a mentor. (IMO If you are not prepared to be a mentor don't act as a A&S judge.) A competition is not the end of a "goal" but rather the start of a conversation about your subject with both mentors and students. Personally, this is why I enter competitions; the hard deadlines also help me. Although I'm getting less and less of this sort of response over the years. This is why I'm happy to judge competitions too.
Boy do I sound like a long winded fortune cookie.....or Don Quixote.