Ohio is one of several states in the process of modernizing its notary public laws.
Back in December 2018, former Ohio Governor John Kasich signed Senate Bill 263, also known as the Notary Public Modernization Act, designed to allow notarization to catch up in an age when more and more documents are signed electronically.
The first big change in the law is the addition of what is termed an “online notary.” Using new technology, a notary located in the State of Ohio will be able to virtually notarize the electronic signature of a person who signs a document, and it should be accepted in lieu of a normal stamp and signature.
In general, this should streamline the notary process. Prior to September, each notary was run through the local clerks of court and common pleas courts for local jurisdictions. As of September, it will be entirely taken over by the Ohio Secretary of state, who will now be responsible for promulgating all of the rules and regulations for notaries.
While the process may be streamlined, the act adds some new steps for non-attorney notaries.
Certification will still run for five-year periods, but in addition to having to renew certification, they will have to engage in continuing education courses to keep up with changes in notary law and finetune what they need to do to remain a notary in Ohio.
Also, there is a more expensive criminal background check and non-attorney notaries convicted of crimes of moral turpitude will not be certified.
It may take a while for the law to impact the work of attorneys. In my real estate realm, while the law says digital notarization should now be accepted just as original notarized documents, the reality is that each recorder’s office follows its own sets of rules. They have their own standards for whether or not they will accept certain documents, and I wonder if some recorders offices will initially give some pushback. Over time, however, I expect them to adjust as electronic notarization becomes more commonplace.
For most attorneys, however, modernization should lead to a convenient process. If a client doesn’t have access or doesn’t have time to get to a bank, he or she can simply go online with a certified notary using the technology that will be in place.
That technology is not as simple as using a Skype account. While we are still waiting to see the rules for what the technology will entail, we do know the following:
It must be a live two-way audio/video communication with sufficient clarity.
The notary must be in Ohio.
The people having the document notarized do not need to be in Ohio.
The connection must be secure from interception or access by anyone other than the persons communicating.
The technology must allow for the affixation of a notary seal or signature.
The technology must also have a verification process to prove the electronic document is what is purporting to be and has not been changed from the original document.
There are already companies producing similar technology used by other states, and I’m sure we’ll see them adapt so that their product is accepted by the Ohio Secretary of State.
One interesting question is whether or not the modernization act or emerging technology will lead to the commercialization of notary companies.
It could. Companies will be creating the technology and selling it to notaries or businesses representing multiple notaries. I’m not certain how successful an online notary business would become. Under the law, there is still a limited amount someone can accept for notarization of a document, whether in person or online, and that amount is pretty small.