The original idea was that readers would vote for their choice of novel from the original longlist, in order to produce a shortlist. A panel of judges would then assess the shortlist and pick a winner. This seemed like a good balance to me - the readers get the chance to vote (and thus make a significant impact), while some quality control would be in place in that the judges can pick the winner (and thus ensure that the winning novel fits the criteria of the competition in the first place - ie, a novel written in the spirit of Gemmell).
The switch to a winner being decided entirely by public vote, in my view, leads to two problems. Firstly, it makes it possible for a book to win that doesn't really fulfill the criteria and this would undermine the integrity of the award. Secondly, it also opens up the possibility for foul play - online voting systems are pretty easy to take advantage of. For example, it's possible for a single person to register multiple votes from different computers in different locations. I guess there's not much that can be done about the second problem, but having a panel making a final decision would probably - to some extent at least - guard against the first point.
I don't doubt that Gemmell would have approved of the democratic nature of the award, but it does leave me feeling a little uneasy - I just hope that whatever novel wins is worthy of the award, as there are one or two novels on that list that do not deserve it. If, by some cruel quirk of fate, Mercedes Lackey wins, I'll probably projectile vomit. :(