After casting ballots for George Bush and Dan Quayle on Monday, Utah's five electors couldn't resist defending the electoral college system in which they had just participated.

Critics argue the public should be allowed to vote directly for the nation's president. Instead, voters merely decide which party's electors will be allowed to cast the real ballots in December. In most states, including Utah, those electors do not necessarily have to choose the candidate the state's voters picked.Utah's five electors met in the state Capitol Monday noon to vote, while the 533 other electors nationwide met in their respective capitols. Utah's electors said they had received letters in recent weeks from people urging them to vote for people other than Bush and Quayle.

Donna Dahl, state GOP vice chairman, said the electoral college - a system included in the original U.S. Constitution and defined further in the 12th Amendment - prevents abuses from getting out of hand.

She said some counties or precincts may try to rig the ballots cast in their areas. With the electoral college, those abuses would have little impact, she said.

"I think it's a safeguard," she said about the system. "I think our founding fathers were inspired."

Charles Akerlow, a former two-term Republican state chairman, said the nation would have to develop some type of national voter registration system if it did away with the electoral college. That may make it more difficult for people to vote.

David Fowers, who said he was the youngest elector in U.S. history four years ago, said the system gives small states like Utah a bigger say in the election.

Fowers, now 23, supports a constitutional amendment that would require electors to vote for the candidates who won the race in their states. To underscore his point, Fowers issued a statement before the vote, saying he could vote for entertainers David Letterman and Johnny Carson if he chose.

But Utah's electors had no surprises in store. They all voted for Bush and Quayle, who earned 66 percent of the state's popular vote Nov. 8.

After the votes were announced by Lt. Gov. Val Oveson, they were placed in a sealed envelope and sent to the U.S. Senate. On Jan. 6, the president of the Senate, George Bush, will open the envelopes from all 50 states and announce the winner - expected to be himself.

Critics say the electoral college system could, in a close election, prevent the candidate who received the most votes of general public from winning.

Such a thing happened 100 years ago when Benjamin Harrison won the presidency despite having nearly 100,000 fewer votes than his challenger, Grover Cleveland. The same thing happened in 1876 and in 1824.

The election last month was not nearly as close. Bush received about 7 million more votes from the public than did Democrat Michael Dukakis, and he was expected to receive 426 electoral votes to 112 for Dukakis.

Utah's five electors were chosen by the Republican Party at its state convention earlier this year. Democrats also chose five electors who would have voted if the state's voters had chosen Dukakis.

In addition to Akerlow, Dahl and Fowers, Utah's electors were Douglas Bischoff, recently named as a deputy chief of staff to Gov. Norm Bangerter, and Frances Hatch Merrill, chairman of the Salt Lake County GOP.