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Marine Corps veteran among those caught in voter purge

Marine Corps veteran and former felon Nathanial Hill speaks at a rally at the Virginia Capital, flanked by allied activists.
Brad Kutner
Radio IQ
Marine Corps veteran and former felon Nathanial Hill speaks at a rally at the Virginia Capital, flanked by allied activists.

Among the 3,400 formerly incarcerated individuals mistakenly removed from Virginia’s voter rolls by Governor Glenn Youngkin was a Marine Corps veteran.

Nathaniel Hill, who served in the Gulf War and said he lost 14 members of his unit in the fighting, spoke out against Youngkin’s voter purge at a rally at the Virginia capital Wednesday morning.

“If you can accept my tax money, then you can restore my rights, what's that? You're robbing me! You’re a criminal!” Hill said from the podium. “You’re on the same level we were convicted of.”

Hill was convicted of a felony in 2015 and released in 2018. He had his rights restored by former Governor Ralph Northam in 2021. But when he went to receive healthcare at a veteran's hospital, he was told he had a felony warrant which would cause him to lose his benefits. An administrative struggle ensued only to find out an error had led to the false report.

But among the errors linked to the false report was his removal from the voter rolls. That too took an administrative battle, but one he eventually won. His rights were restored two weeks ago, nearly 30 years after he left the Marine Corps.

Hill was joined by other city and local leaders, as well as civil rights groups, who asked for more transparency in the governor’s effort to remove voters his office argues are ineligible to vote.

According to at 2023 report from the state’s Department of Elections, over 17,000 voter registrations were canceled for felony convictions. His office went on to admit about 300 of those were mistakenly canceled, and last week that number was upped to over 3,400. A computer error which considered technical violations as felonies was to blame, according to Youngkin’s office.

He’s since asked for an independent review of the matter, as well as a look at any recent voters who could have voted despite being ineligible.

But Wednesday morning, the Capital rang out with calls of distrust of the state’s review process.

“It shouldn’t be like this in 2023,” said Richmond Mayor Lavar Stoney who spoke at the rally. Stoney said he was the son of a man who lost his rights over felony disenfranchisement, a system he long decried as rooted in Jim Crow-era racism.

“[Youngkin believes] democracy should be about subtraction, that only some should be able to vote,” he said. “And this has been played out in the South for years and years.”

The mayor pointed to former governors from both parties who worked to restore voting rights, not take them away, and joined recent calls from civil rights groups like the ACLU of Virginia, and congressional Democrats, for the Department of Justice to investigate the matter.

As for Hill, who looked dapper in a burnt orange velour suit and matching hat with gold-tipped bow tie, he said he was out Wednesday morning to fight the "good fight." He said it’s the same reason he joined the Marine Corps so many years ago , and the same thing the 14 members of his unit died for.

“I don’t mind fighting for my country, I’d do it again,” he said. “It's bigger than me.”

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.