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Notarizations Go Digital in North Carolina

According to North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, e-notaries simplify the notarization process while upholding current state laws and standards.

by / September 20, 2013

North Carolina standardized a new process that allows for notarization to be completed electronically. Some state officials are calling the program the first and most robust move to e-notarizations on a statewide level.

Notarizations are traditionally completed manually with paper documents and require an authorized “notary public” to approve, sign and seal official documents – often for legal purposes. Laws require that when documents are notarized, both the notary public and the parties involved with the documents are physically present for the notarization.

Although notarizations can now be completed electronically in North Carolina, often with the help of laptops or other mobile devices, the state still requires that both the notary and involved parties be physically present when the e-notarization transaction is completed. The move to digital notarizations was spearheaded by the Secretary of State's office and its current Secretary Elaine Marshall to enhance the signature value on official documents while still upholding statewide standards.

Marshall said e-notarizations will save time and money since notaries won’t have to spend as much time driving to meet with individuals in need of a notarization and won’t have to cover additional costs like sending documents via courier or through the mail. But despite the simpler completion process that resulted, the state did encounter some challenges along the way, such as gaining overall acceptance from local officials, Marshall said.

“Becoming an electronic notary is optional, nobody has to do it,” Marshall said. “The next challenge was acceptance by the most common [notarization] filing office which would be the Registers of Deeds." Each of North Carolina's 100 counties has an elected Register of Deeds, she added.

So far, the state has nearly 150,000 notaries public officially trained and authorized, and 1,000 of them are official e-notaries, she said. The e-notary availability in North Carolina was made possible by extending the state’s existing use of Docusign, a software-as-a-service e-signature transaction management platform.

Last year, the state selected Docusign, which was deployed in the State Controller’s Office to electronically sign documents like travel reimbursements and background checks. The e-signature platform was approved for every North Carolina state department, and according to Marshall, is the only state to standardize notarizations on a single e-signature platform.

Marshall said Docusign had to be evaluated by the state to ensure that the company could comply with the state’s e-signature standards.

Currently North Carolina is the only state where individuals perform notary public duties using the Docusign platform. Founder Tom Gonser said they intend to expand Docusign's e-notary component to other jurisdictions in the future.

Notaries can use the Docusign platform to create a personal profile that includes information about commissions, when their license expires and other background and credential details. If an individual is an authorized notary, the platform will recognize that his or her credentials are legitimate and allow acces to the Docusign tools.

“If you are a real notary and you put the right credentials in, [Docusign] will say, ‘Presto, you actually are a notary,’” Gonser said.


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Sarah Rich

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. She wrote for for Government Technology magazine from 2010 through 2013.

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