By Michael Peltier
TALLAHASSEE, Florida (Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday dismissed a challenge to Florida's recent voter purge efforts, clearing the way for the removal of about 200 suspected non-U.S. citizens from state voter rolls before the November 6 presidential election.
District Judge William Zloch dismissed the remaining challenges from voter advocacy groups, including the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights and the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
The plaintiffs had contended Florida's purge efforts violated the National Voter Registration Act, or NVRA, and a federal law against removing voters within 90 days of an election, except under certain special circumstances.
Florida, which is closely divided between Democrats and Republicans, is an important electoral battleground state.
Zloch's ruling affects 198 people believed to be non-U.S. citizens based on a Department of Homeland Security citizenship database. An earlier purge list, containing more than 2,600 names, was cut back sharply due to errors.
"Certainly, the NVRA does not require the state to idle on the sidelines until a non-citizen violates the law before the state can act," Zloch wrote. "And surely the NVRA does not require the state to wait until after that critical juncture - when the vote has been cast and the harm has been fully realized - to address what it views as nothing short of 'voter fraud.'"
Florida election officials, who have defended the state's efforts to remove ineligible voters from the rolls, applauded the ruling.
"We're very pleased another federal court has ruled that Florida's efforts to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls are lawful and in the best interest of Florida voters," Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner said in a statement.
"Ensuring ineligible voters can't cast a ballot is a fundamental aspect of conducting fair elections."
(Editing by Tom Brown and Peter Cooney)