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Utah County Develops a Fully Online Marriage License System

Utah County plans to release an end-to-end online marriage license system, one of the first among U.S. counties. The full process, which will be demoed Dec. 18, utilizes facial recognition and blockchain technologies.

marriage license
Before being elected clerk/auditor of Utah County, Amelia Powers Gardner got married there. To get a marriage license, she and her fiancé had to visit an office during working hours, fill out forms on a clipboard and watch a worker retype that same info. After all that, a license was finally printed. 

Gardner, who ran for office on a platform of making government work better and cheaper, found the process antiquated and overly manual. She said she didn’t think the system had been updated “since the invention of Microsoft Excel.” She also knew her sister’s husband’s name on their Utah County marriage license and certificate was misspelled. It was time for a change. 

“If people are entering their own information, they’re more likely to enter it correctly,” Gardner said. “So I wanted that to happen.”

In October, after about nine months of development, Utah County unveiled its online marriage application option. Since its launch (as of Dec. 15), 827 total applications have been processed in the jurisdiction, and 256 of those were processed online, which amounts to a little less than one online application for every two walk-ins. Burt Harvey, who supervises marriage licenses for the county, said in an email to Government Technology that his office expects that ratio to reverse as word of mouth about the online option continues to spread. 

The project is not quite finished, though. Right now, couples can apply for a license, pay fees and receive a copy of the license online. But a printed copy of the license has to be taken to the wedding’s officiator, who has to sign the document by hand. The license then must be delivered back to a county office for certification and mailing. 

By the end of January, the county expects that all of these steps will be possible via tech, said Josh Daniels, deputy clerk/auditor of Utah County. The officiator will be able to digitally sign the license. From there, a certified marriage license will be autogenerated and emailed to the couple. This end-to-end process will be demoed Dec. 18 during a free conference called Government + Blockchain.

Blockchain will be used to certify the digital license via Titan Seal, which ensures the marriage record cannot be altered. Blockchain was also used for the back end of the license system, said Patrick Wawro, information systems director for the Utah County Clerk/Auditor’s Office. 

While other places may offer one or more aspects of this fully online system, no other local jurisdiction in the country has a comprehensive marriage license system that doesn’t require any staff, to the county’s knowledge.

“Each of these parts are emerging technologies,” Wawro said. “What we tried to do was just put those technologies together in this context. It’s not like we invented a lot of it, but we just put it together in a unique way.” 

In addition to increasing basic efficiency, the online system can serve various unique needs of citizens. If someone wants to get married on a weekend in Utah County, the system can allow that to happen. Daniels said the system will also be great for out-of-state couples who want their ceremony performed in a historic Mormon temple, which is a significant wedding destination spot in the county. In the past, the county has had to go out of its way to help out-of-state couples who failed to set aside sufficient time in their plans for a temple wedding. 

One significant decision was selecting a proper facial recognition technology for the identity verification segment of the online application, said Jerry Chapman, programming manager for the Utah County Clerk/Auditor’s Office. The county settled on a technology from Acuant

“That’s kind of a hard area for the general public to use,” Chapman said. “If they don’t pose correctly, or maybe they’re trying to do it on a webcam on their computer, you get that fishbowl effect. That was one of the big hurdles we had to cross.”

Given how her own analog process of getting a marriage license went, user experience was Gardner’s top priority for the new system. She said if you’re implementing a technology solution for employees, you can train them on it. Everyday users require a different approach. 

“When you’re dealing with the general public, you don’t have that opportunity to train them, and they don’t have an option but to get a marriage license if they want to get married,” Gardner said. “We can’t be an obstacle between them and their day of happiness, and so you really have to keep in mind that that side of it is most important. Even if it’s a little bit more in-depth programming-wise, it’s worth it.”

Wawro said Utah County’s population is growing significantly and that, as a result, the demand for an online marriage license option will grow as well. Any user experience limitations would mean the county would miss out on a significant opportunity to serve people better. 

“If it’s hard to do, they’re not going to use it anyway,” Wawro said. “They’re still going to come down to the office. We did not want to have a bad experience from a user point of view."

Jed Pressgrove has been a writer and editor for about 15 years. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in sociology from Mississippi State University.