Embracing Remote Online Notarization

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Without question, at one time or another most of us have had the opportunity to hear an expression that, in my humble opinion, is often taken dangerously to heart way too frequently: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Having researched the origin of this hackneyed philosophy, I came to learn that its roots are traceable to a man of historical significance named Thomas Bertram Lance, someone who found political relevance first as an advisor to former president Jimmy Carter during his campaign and then as Ombudsman to the government during Carter’s tenure as Commander-In-Chief.

Having always considered myself just a little bit too smart to get involved with the seemingly glamorous but ultimately corrupt and vapid world of political influence, there finally came a time when I had to ask myself “Just what does a believer in this saying TRULY want others to avoid?” The answer? Change. Yes, I’m afraid it appears to be all about complacency and the unwillingness to face up to the challenge of learning and adapting to new technologies. Such just may be the case – both with notaries and clients alike – when it comes to dealing with Remote Online Notarization, or simply RON.

As a notary in New York State, it pretty much blew my mind when I first found out that RON would be allowed, albeit initially on a temporary basis, as a direct result of the COVID-19 Pandemic. RON, then-Governor Andrew Cuomo reasoned, was a perfect way to help flatten the curve by reducing extended in-person interactions to an even lesser frequency. The resulting effect was the one desired.  As an alternative to the old-fashioned way, signatures on important documents in need of a State-commissioned impartial witness could now receive their due notarization by utilizing the most socially-distant method imaginable: Zoom and similar remote platforms. 

The initial trouble seemed to be that a great number of people – some of whom were happy to share with me their issues via anecdotal evidence – were either hesitant or not willing at all to become acquainted with this methodology. To be fair, as RON has slowly been accepted in states throughout the US, it is still at the discretion of the document originator as to whether or not RON will be an acceptable form of notarization. While some might prefer the advent of RIN (Remote Ink Notarization), in which physical signatures and stamps are created on paper files which are uploaded and scanned back and forth for eventual digitized storage and retrieval, sadly RIN is not a method that has been sanctioned in nearly as many states. 

The challenges don’t end there; numerous questions can be raised. Since RON can be performed with the signer being present anywhere in the world (so long as the notary is located within the boundaries of their commissioned state) what determines the time of notarization if, for example, the notary is in New York State but the signer is in Uzbekistan? How does one know the signer isn’t under some kind of duress as the result of, say, a pistol or knife being pointed at them from someone off-screen whose positioning reveals no threatening shadow? Rather than run away from these seemingly insurmountable issues, I would much rather aim to arrive at solutions, remaining confident in my ability to enact my best judgment.

Under Kathy Hochul, the current governor, New York State is set to finalize the regulations for acceptable RON platforms, recordkeeping, statutory fees, etc. by this coming January of 2023 (RIN will no longer be permissible after January 31). As of the time I write this post, I instinctively feel a possibility that these guidelines may not materialize until a few months beyond that point if we’re lucky. However, as the famous writer and abolitionist Frederick Douglass posited:

“without struggle, there is no progress.” So too must I and many other notaries struggle, at least initially, with what is an ever-evolving technology, full of uncertainty, lacking in definitive best practices, but one possessive of just as many advantages as drawbacks. Could the platform a notary chooses ultimately not make their particular state’s “approved platform” cut? Absolutely. Can notarized documents risk being rejected as a result of the originator forbidding the practice of RON? You bet. Flipping this perspective on its side, would that not mean that a great deal of time and perhaps paper would be exponentially saved by more enactment of RON, even if a healthy continuation of the old-school in -person method takes place in order to maintain a flowing balance of choice? BY ALL MEANS. 

In conclusive response to the above realities, here’s what I say: “If it ain’t broke, strive to improve it.”

7 thoughts on “Embracing Remote Online Notarization”

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