FRANKFORT, Ky. — With one day until Kentucky's primary election, over 880,000 people have requested mail-in absentee ballots and 452,305 ballots have already been returned before the June 23 postmark deadline.
“If all of the absentee ballots are returned, we will have the largest number of people voting in one of our primaries in at least the last decade,” Gov. Andy Beshear said at a press briefing Monday.
This primary, mail-in voting and "no excuse" early in-person voting have been allowed for the first time. Kentuckians can still vote in person on Tuesday, though the number of polling locations have been slashed across the commonwealth, leaving just one location in Kenton, Boone and Campbell counties.
“We should always be concerned if we think more people could vote in a different way, but what I would ask is that people look at all of the facts, including first ever mail in voting, first ever no excuse voting, and the numbers are already adding up to be the most significant primary in terms of voter interest and in votes we have seen," Beshear said.
The state will also supply personal protective equipment to poll workers in all 120 counties ahead of the primary election. Beshear said 5,000 masks, 4,000 gallons of hand sanitizer, 5,800 face shields and 20,000 gloves would be distributed.
For more information about voting in Kentucky, click here.
Ky. COVID-19 numbers
Kentucky reported no new virus-related deaths Monday, something that's only happened a handful of times since the pandemic first came to the commonwealth, Beshear said.
Kentucky reports 526 total coronavirus-related deaths out of 13,750 virus cases so far. More than 3,530 people have recovered from the virus, and the state has tested 336,267 people as of Monday
NKY Health reported that 1,542 people in Boone, Campbell, Kenton and Grant counties have tested positive for coronavirus since March and 76 people have died of the virus as of Monday.
In long term care facilities, 1,667 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, and 333 residents have died. In those facilities, 795 staff have contracted COVID-19 and three have died as of Thursday.
To find one of the free coronavirus testing locations in Kentucky, click here.
What's reopening in Kentucky?
With newly-released guidelines in place, public pools can reopen and gatherings of up to 50 people can also resume starting June 29.
Among the requirements for pool centers are social distancing and limited pool capacity. Any time their heads are above water, swimmers must maintain a distance of six feet from people who aren't from the same household. Seating at swimming facilities will also be spaced six feet apart, and pools are asked to encourage guests to bring their own seats whenever possible.
Many of the guidelines to host large events already apply to groups of 10 people or fewer, which have been allowed to resume in the commonwealth. Among the new guidelines are continuing to socially distance, wearing cloth masks, not sharing food or drinks and hosting events outside whenever possible.
See what else is reopening in Kentucky here.
Calls for better unemployment system
In the wake of closures due to coronavirus that prompted layoffs and furloughs, Kentucky's unemployment rate soared from 4.2% in February to 15.4% by April 2020. The state's unemployment insurance system struggled to keep up with the influx of claims.
Labor Cabinet Secretary Larry Roberts will become the new commissioner for unemployment insurance and an outside communications and training vendor is being consulted to beef up Kentucky’s unemployment infrastructure and to train more unemployment adjudicators, Beshear said Tuesday.
This comes after dozens of people were turned away from unemployment offices Wednesday as they closed in Frankfort at 7 p.m. -- after they waited in line 10 hours in the sun.
"What an awful feeling that must have been," Beshear said at a press conference Thursday afternoon.
Those turned away were contacted Thursday morning, and 61 of the 67 who were turned away had their claims resolved as of 3:15 p.m., Beshear said.
On Thursday, Beshear said he wants to see better funding, more employees and more offices open to assist Kentuckians with pandemic and unenemployment assistance going forward.
"We had a system that was designed to tell you 'no,' ... hoping you wouldn't come back," Beshear said.
The number of unemployment offices around the state shrank from 51 to 29 in 2017, Beshear said. The system’s $41 million budget in 2010 was cut down to $25 million in 2018. Those offices are using a 20-year-old computer system to process hundreds of thousands of claims.
"I hope that we will never starve these systems again, that we will maintain and improve what we have, and that we realize that everybody needs a little help sometimes, and once in every 100 years, or more frequently, a whole lot of us need help really fast," Beshear said.
Meanwhile, the Team Kentucky Fund has given a total of $350,215 to 421 households since it was launched in March, Lt. Gov. Jacqueline Coleman said Thursday.
Currently, 398 applications pending approval with documentation.
To donate or apply for vouchers to the Team Kentucky Fund, visit www.capky.org.
State health exchange
In order to combat inequality and inequity in healthcare, Beshear said Wednesday he wants transition to a state-based healthcare exchange beginning Jan. 1, 2022.
Beshear says the program would be similar to Kynect, which launched in 2013 and enrolled 500,000 newly eligible people in Medicaid coverage and Qualified Health Plans. Gov. Matt Bevin discontinued the program in 2017.
Beshear said Kentuckians would see reduced premium costs through the health exchange with greater flexibility and autonomy than the federal exchange, which had a 3% user fee that cost Kentuckians roughly $9.8 million per year.
Beshear sent a letter of intent to start work on this program to the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Wednesday. Launching the state exchange will incur a one-time cost of $5 million for the system, with annual operating costs estimated between $1-2 million.
Watch a replay of Monday's briefing in the player below:
Tuesday last day to vote in primary election