Senator Defends Joke About Making It Harder for Liberals to Vote

November 16, 2018, 4:07 PM UTC

Republican Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi, who faces a Nov. 27 runoff election against Democrat Mike Espy, said she was joking when she told a group of students that it would be a “great idea” to make it harder for liberals to vote “in those other schools.”

The comments were captured in a cell-phone video as Hyde-Smith spoke to a small crowd at Mississippi State University in Starkville on Nov. 2, just four days before Election Day. The video was posted on social media by Lamar White, who publishes the liberal-leaning Louisiana website The Bayou Brief.

“And then they remind me that there’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools who maybe we don’t want to vote,” Hyde-Smith, 59, can be heard saying in the 18-second clip. “Maybe we want to make it just a little more difficult. And I think that’s a great idea.”

A small group of students standing near the senator laughed at the remark.

Melissa Scallan, spokeswoman for the campaign, said Hyde-Smith was “obviously joking” and that the video had been selectively edited.

“They were talking about putting polling places on college campuses, and that’s what she said was a great idea, not anything else,” Scallan said in an email. “Someone made a comment about college campuses being liberal, and that’s when she made a joke about not everyone voting. That’s all it was — a joke.”

Mississippi and other Southern states have a long history of voter suppression targeting people of color, which resulted in federal oversight under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Allegations of racist-inspired voter suppression have been a widespread across the U.S. this year. Since the Supreme Court eased provisions of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, some states have reduced polling places, purged voter rolls and enacted stricter voter identification laws.

Hyde-Smith’s attempt to make a humorous reference to voter suppression comes about a month after a video emerged of the senator making a reference to attending a public hanging. Her critics, including Espy, who is African American, interpreted the comment by Hyde-Smith, who is white, as a bad joke about lynching.

“She was talking about a young man who was at her campaign stop who used to work for her,” Scallan said. “She said she would do anything for him — fight a circular saw — and then she made the comment about the public hanging.”