ELAINE MARSHALL: N.C.'s notary program among best in nation

Thursday, July 20, 2017 -- Attacks on our notary system smears a program viewed as a gold standard for notary public training, commissioning and rules enforcement.

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North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall
EDITOR’S NOTE: Elaine Marshall, a lawyer, is North Carolina's Secretary of State. She was first elected in 1996 and has been re-elected five more times.

You might not realize this, given some of the recent political bluster, but North Carolina has one of the best, if not the best, notary public programs in our nation.

Our great reputation is thanks to the high standards that aspiring notaries must meet, and to the cutting-edge notary public innovations we have developed in North Carolina. These efforts have earned significant recognition with the National Notary Association’s highest national Achievement Award and earlier this month the National Association of Secretaries of State Medallion Award for "outstanding leadership in business services and electronic governance issues.”

Recent breakthroughs in advancing how notaries public help businesses and the public include our “Find-A-Notary” search engine. It allows anyone using the web to locate the nearest notary public who has said they are available to serve walk-ins. Another advancement is our electronic notary or “eNotary” program—a 21st Century safe and secure way to notarize electronic documents moving at the speed of the internet itself. Details of these programs can be found in the Notary section of sosnc.gov.
The eNotary component was key to another recent NC Secretary of State breakthrough — fully electronic real estate closings. The first up and running “eClosing” program in the nation, and now the model for other states to follow!

These are the most advanced and exciting programs to happen in the world of notary public since quill pens were replaced by ball points. But, what exactly does a notary public do?

Notaries witness signatures on important legal documents, such as wills, deeds, titles and contracts. The notary’s job: At the moment these documents are to be signed, to ensure that the person or persons signing the documents are who they say they are and that they do not appear to be coerced or of an unsound state of mind.

They check the identity of the signer or signers by either affirming that they personally know who the signer is, or in most cases, by checking the person’s identity through a photo ID such as a driver’s license or passport.

They provide an impartial, third-party witness in a broad spectrum of transactions, giving a higher level of credibility and reliability to signatures on vital documents.

The notary then seals that document with their notary stamp or seal after it has been signed in front of them. They are given the status of a public official in order to provide their seal on the document as a way to prevent the forgery or fraudulent signing of otherwise legally-binding documents.

Notaries do not approve the details of the document being signed. A notary public is not allowed to give legal advice.

Most people seek to become notaries as part of their jobs working in places where notarizations are often needed, such as at law offices, real estate firms and car dealerships.

Those hoping to become a notary public in North Carolina must attend a six-hour class, typically at a local community college. They must be 18 years old or older, have a high school diploma or equivalent, and be U.S. citizens or reside here legally. In 1984 the United States Supreme Court made it clear no one can be denied a notary commission on the basis of citizenship status alone.

For non-citizens, the agency only accepts the following U.S. Department of Homeland Security-issued documents as proof of legal residency: (1) permanent resident cards, (2) employment authorization cards, or (3) visas. They must be of good moral character with clean or very minor criminal records. It is a criminal offense to give any false answers on the notary application.

They must pass a test given in English at the end of that class. The local instructor determines that the students’ final grades make them candidates suitable for commissioning. After they receive their certificate from the Secretary of State’s Office, they must then be sworn-in as a notary by their county Register of Deeds.

The Secretary of State’s Office does not act alone, much less in “secret” during the notary certification process. This is just another reason that the recent highly partisan political attack implying such falsehoods, is wrong and ill advised.

That attack on me and our notary system smears a program viewed as a gold standard for notary public training, commissioning and rules enforcement. We are often used as a best practices model around the country when it comes to what we teach, how we teach it and the high standards all notaries maintain.

It is beyond sad that our hard-earned and well-deserved reputation could be seriously harmed by a few reckless politicians just to score some political points.

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