First U.S. presidential election On this day in 1789, America’s first presidential election is held. Voters cast ballots to choose state electors; only white men who owned property were allowed to vote. As expected, George Washington won the election and was sworn into office on April 30, 1789. As it did in 1789, the United States still uses the Electoral College system, established by the U.S. Constitution, which today gives all American citizens over the age of 18 the right to vote for electors, who in turn vote for the president. The president and vice president are the only elected federal officials chosen by the Electoral College instead of by direct popular vote. Today political parties usually nominate their slate of electors at their state conventions or by a vote of the party’s central state committee, with party loyalists often being picked for the job. Members of the U.S. Congress, though, can’t be electors. Each state is allowed to choose as many electors as it has senators and representatives in Congress. The District of Columbia has 3 electors. During a presidential election year, on Election Day (the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November), the electors from the party that gets the most popular votes are elected in a winner-take-all-system, with the exception of Maine and Nebraska, which allocate electors proportionally. In order to win the presidency, a candidate needs a majority of 270 electoral votes out of a possible 538. On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December of a presidential election year, each state’s electors meet, usually in their state capitol, and simultaneously cast their ballots nationwide. This is largely ceremonial: Because electors nearly always vote with their party, presidential elections are essentially decided on Election Day. Although electors aren’t constitutionally mandated to vote for the winner of the popular vote in their state, it is demanded by tradition and required by law in 26 states and the District of Columbia (in some states, violating this rule is punishable by $1,000 fine). Historically, over 99 percent of all electors have cast their ballots in line with the voters. On January 6, as a formality, the electoral votes are counted before Congress and on January 20, the commander in chief is sworn into office. Critics of the Electoral College argue that the winner-take-all system makes it possible for a candidate to be elected president even if he gets fewer popular votes than his opponent. This happened in the elections of 1876, 1888 and 2000. However, supporters contend that if the Electoral College were done away with, heavily populated states such as California and Texas might decide every election and issues important to voters in smaller states would be ignored. 1901 Cannibal Alfred Packer is paroled The confessed Colorado cannibal Alfred Packer is released from prison on parole after serving 18 years. One of the ragged legions of gold and silver prospectors who combed the Rocky Mountains searching for fortune in the 1860s, Alfred Packer also supplemented his meager income from mining by serving as a guide in the Utah and Colorado wilderness. In early November 1873, Packer left Bingham Canyon, Utah, to lead a party of 21 men bound for the gold fields near Breckenridge, Colorado. The winter of 1873-74 was unusually harsh. After three months of difficult travel, the party staggered into the camp of the Ute Indian Chief Ouray, near present-day Montrose, Colorado. The Utes graciously provided the hungry and exhausted men with food and shelter. Chief Ouray advised the men to stay in the camp until a break came in the severe winter weather, but with their strength rekindled by food and rest, Packer and five other men decided to continue the journey. Two months later, Packer arrived alone at the Los Pinos Indian Agency, looking surprisingly fit for a man who had just completed an arduous winter trek through the Rockies. Packer first claimed he had become separated from his five companions during a blizzard and survived on rabbits and rosebuds. Suspicions grew, though, when it was discovered that Packer had an unusual amount of money and many items belonging to the missing men. Under questioning, Packer confessed that the real story was far more gruesome: four of the men, he claimed, had died naturally from the extreme winter conditions and the starving survivors ate them. When only Packer and one other man, Shannon Bell, remained alive, Bell went insane and threatened to kill Packer. Packer said he shot Bell in self-defense and eventually ate his corpse. Though shocking, Packer’s grisly story would probably have been accepted as an unfortunate tragedy had not searchers later found the remains of the five men at a single campsite-not strung out along the trail as Packer had claimed. Packer was arrested and charged with murder, but he escaped from jail and remained at large for nine years. Recaptured in 1883 near Fort Fetterman, Wyoming, Packer once again changed his story. He claimed that all six men had made camp alive, but lost and starving, they were too weak to go on. One day Packer went in search of the trail. Upon returning several hours later, he discovered to his horror that Bell had gone mad, killed the other four with a hatchet, and was boiling the flesh of one of them for his meal. When Bell spotted Packer, he charged with his hatchet raised, and Packer shot him twice in the belly. Lost and trapped alone in a camp of dead men, Packer said he only resorted to cannibalism after several more days, when it was his only means of survival. Having twice changed his story, Packer’s credibility was undermined, and a jury convicted him of manslaughter. He remained imprisoned in the Canon City penitentiary until 1901 when the Denver Post published a series of articles and editorials questioning his guilt. Eventually, the state was freed Packer on parole. Packer went to work as a guard for the Post and lived quietly in and around Littleton, Colorado, maintaining his innocence until the day he died in 1907. Though we will never know exactly what happened on the so-called “Cannibal Plateau” near present-day Lake City, Colorado, recent forensic studies of the remains of the men who died have tended to support the details of Packer’s second confession. 1892 Mine explodes in Oklahoma A massive mine explosion leaves nearly 100 dead in Krebs, Oklahoma, on this day in 1892. The disaster, the worst mining catastrophe in Oklahoma’s history, was mainly due to the mine owner’s emphasis on profits over safety. Southeastern Oklahoma was a prime location for mining at the turn of the 19th century. Much of the land belonged to Native Americans and thus was exempt from U.S. federal government laws and regulations. Although the mining company’s indifferent attitude toward safety was well-known, there were more than enough immigrants in the area willing to work in the dangerous conditions at the Krebs mine, where most miners were of Italian and Russian descent. In the early evening of January 7, several hundred workers were mining the No. 11 mine when an inexperienced worker accidentally set off a stash of explosives. Approximately 100 miners were burned or buried in the explosion. Another 150 workers suffered serious injuries. Nearly every household in Krebs was directly affected by the tragedy. It wasn’t until 2002 that the victims of the Krebs mining disaster were honored by a memorial built at the site of the old mine.