Many documents require a signature verification by a notary public. But if you’re social distancing, going to the bank or your lawyer’s office is not something you want to do. But there’s an app for that: It’s called remote online notarization (RON). It is not clear, yet, whether this workaround will apply to the notary requirement that some states have for voting absentee. [Missouri’s secretary of state, for example, says that remote online notarization will NOT apply to ballots.]
In response to the coronavirus emergency, numerous states have put in place emergency measures that eliminate the requirement that documents be signed in person in the presence of a notary public. The details differ from state to state, but the intent is the same: to allow people to fulfill various signature requirements without breaking the social-distancing barrier.
RON is a major departure from tradition, and some notaries and government institutions were, initially reluctant to accept it. But with the problems presented by the coronavirus pandemic, that opposition has mostly dissipated, especially now that that face-to-face contact can be satisfied online using audiovisual technology such as a webcam. The signer can be in another town, another state or even another country.
How does a remote notary confirm a signer’s identity without being able to hold and examine an ID? One of the safeguards includes asking for knowledge-based authentication—known as KBA—in which the signer must correctly answer a set of computer-generated questions related to their life, and credit and financial history. If the signer cannot successfully pass the KBA, the notary will not perform the notarization. Another, simpler method to confirm the signer’s identity is for the signer to hold their ID up to the camera, allowing the notary to check that the signer looks like the person on the ID and that other details match the information on the ID.
A recent article published by the National Notary Association (NNA) gives the details of how it’s done, state by state. Some have allowed RON for several years; others are new to the game; some are allowing RON only for a limited time period during the pandemic. A map on the NNA website indicates that almost every US state authorizes some form of remote notarization.
On a broader scale, US Senators Mark warner (D-VA) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND) recently introduced an act that would authorize remote online authorizations nationwide.
It’s just one more way that America is changing as a result of the pandemic of 2020.