Will McDermott is editor of Scotsman Guide Residential Edition.
Reach him at (800) 297-6061 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Notary Public Administrators, a section of the National Association of Secretaries of State
By Will McDermott
Mike Smith is president of the Notary
Public Administrators (NPA), a staff
section of the National Association
of Secretaries of State. Smith also is
director of communications and compliance for the Georgia Superior Court
Clerks’ Cooperative Authority, where
he is responsible for oversight of the
Notary Public Division in Georgia and
serves as the Uniform Commercial
Code (UCC) information officer and
the private-sector customer liaison
for the Authority. In addition, Smith
conducts training seminars across
Georgia for banking associations,
bar associations, filing offices and
the general public on the UCC and
It is time for notarization to enter the digital age
If the mortgage loan process is ever to become completely digital from end to end, every county in every state
will need to be able to accept electronic notarizations. This is partly a technology issue, but it is also a legal issue.
Not every state legislature has passed laws that make e-notarization legal within the state. The Notary Public
Administrators (NPA), a section of the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS), assisted NASS with the
development of its 2006 e-notarization standards and is now drafting guidelines for remote notarization, which
allows document signers to meet with notaries via webcams. We spoke with Mike Smith, president of the NPA,
about these efforts.
What is preventing so many states from allowing electronic notarization?
It’s primarily a legislative issue. Some states at this point have not either seen the importance or chosen not to
address and allow for electronic notarization. ... It’s a matter of whatever it is in their priority list in their individual legislatures. I’m not saying the legislatures are roadblocks. I just think that probably a lot of those states that
have not implemented at this point have not made it a priority, but I think you are going to see that [changing]
more and more. Electronic notarization has been around for 15 years or longer. The technology has been there.
It’s just again a matter of legislatures eventually seeing the importance of allowing for it.
What can you tell us about the NASS remote-notarization guidelines?
NASS established a task force last year on remote notarization. It was more of a fact-gathering mission and that
is ongoing. In late winter, early spring of this year, it was decided that the task force would entertain the idea of
developing standards. There has been a call from private industry looking for guidance in this area, so the task
force tasked NPA with developing a set of guiding principles that a state or jurisdiction should consider when
implementing remote notarization.
We looked at information available from both public and private sectors. We talked to groups like the American
Bar Association and lenders as well. We gathered fundamental issues that have been raised by these parties, and
we tried to identify what we believe were the principles that should be considered moving forward.
What are those guiding principles?
There is applicability; jurisdiction; identification of the principal (meaning identification of the signer); technology neutrality, which is basically saying that you shouldn’t promote one type of technology over another; administrative rules that we assume jurisdictions will probably take up; and then the security of remote notarization.
Which is the hardest principle to implement?
The one thing that always gets a lot of conversation is jurisdiction because that has been a founding principle
of the notarial act. For instance, Virginia’s law says — and I’m paraphrasing — that it doesn’t matter where the
notary or the signer are located. They could be located in Georgia. However, if there were a notarial act that
needed to be addressed from a legal standpoint, whoever has oversight in that particular state where that act
occurred might say, “well, actually, no. We have some say about jurisdiction.”
The U.S. State Department also has concerns because of sovereignty of a nation. You can pass a law in whatever
state and say “If I pay for my notary to conduct this, no matter where they are, I will verify the signer even though
he could be in a foreign nation.” That’s okay, but there are foreign nations that forbid that by law.
What will it take to get wide adoption of remote notarization?
I think it’s a matter of time. ... Again, each jurisdiction needs to determine where that falls on their priority list.
For instance, there are still states out there that don’t have a simple electronic database of all of their notaries.
And certainly, that would take precedence over worrying about trying to implement some remote notarization
What would you like mortgage originators to know about these issues?
Not one specific thing. One of several good things to come out of this has been that there is now a dialog
between [notary] administrators and those in the lending industry and the title industry. I think it’s good for
administrators to hear from them, and it is good for them to hear from administrators. There is some common
ground there. I think in the end, regardless of whether the act is paper or electronic — or who knows 20 years
from now, it might be holographic — I still think the core act of witnessing the signer and the role of the notary
is going to remain the same regardless of the technology employed. n