By Kevin Gray
MIAMI (Reuters) - Florida election authorities are examining about 180,000 people who they say may not be U.S. citizens but are registered to vote in the state, an official said on Friday.
State officials are updating Florida's voter rolls ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November. Florida is home to a large Latino population and is expected to be a critical swing state in the contest between Democratic President Barack Obama and presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
Florida's Division of Elections said it is checking the citizenship of voters by comparing its databases with those of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, which keeps track of whether a licensed driver is also a U.S. citizen.
Similar efforts have been carried out by state authorities in Colorado and New Mexico, which also have large Latino communities.
"We're going to vet a list of 180,000 people to try to come up with a real number," said Chris Cate, a spokesman for Florida's Division of Elections. "We don't want to jump to conclusions without a thorough investigation."
Officials in Florida have so far identified more than 2,600 potential voters who may not be U.S. citizens and sent their information to local election authorities, Cate said.
Drivers in Florida are required to show proof of their legal status when they get a driver's license or renew an old one.
Cate said cross-referencing voter rolls with the highway department information could help better determine whether voters are U.S. citizens, but he added the information was sometimes incomplete.
"Their last contact with the highway department may have been four or five years ago and they could have had the chance to become a citizen since then," he said.
Potential non-citizen voters are notified by mail and given 30 days to respond.
Nearly 1,600 of the voters identified up until now reside in Miami-Dade County, Florida's most populous county, which includes the city of Miami.
Cate said some Florida officials have asked the Obama administration to grant the state access to databases maintained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to help determine who is a citizen.
"We've been requesting access, but have so far been denied," he said.
(Editing by Eric Beech)