Looking at the New York results and it's obvious that something should change. Category 26 has 77 entries and Category 27 has 6. Yet they're both competing for three spots to advance.
My numbers are guesstimates, but here's an idea. Say right now AHA awards ribbons to 10% of the entries that make it to the final. They could use that number throughout the competition. In the first round, if there are 77 beers in a category, 8 advance (minimum of one). Same in the finals. If from all the regions, 100 beers from one category make it to the finals, the top 10 are recognized at the conference award ceremony. About the same total number of brewers would make it to the podium, but it would be a fairer representation of their accomplishment.