Lawmakers look to overhaul notary laws

CHEYENNE — Wyoming lawmakers took an initial look Friday at replacing the state’s existing notary laws to allow for more signings to be done virtually and by some out-of-state residents.

Members of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee were presented with an 80-page bill replacing the laws on the books governing Wyoming’s notary process. The legislation was largely compiled by the Secretary of State’s Office, which worked alongside a wide range of stakeholders in developing the initial draft.

“When we started looking at making amendments, we took all of our laws, and we thought it would just be so much smoother if they were all together in one place where a notary can read them,” Kelly Janes, compliance division director of the Secretary of State’s Office, told lawmakers during the virtual meeting. “This ended up being a bigger bill than we thought, but while we had the opportunity, we wanted to make it right.”

If passed during next year’s general session, the legislation would allow notaries to be performed over virtual platforms such as Zoom, which the Secretary of State’s Office began offering as a temporary COVID-19 measure in June. Representatives of the Wyoming Association of Realtors and the Wyoming Banking Association offered some support for the measure.

From the legal world to real estate, a wide range of documents require notarized signatures, though they are also needed for another task in Wyoming: registering to vote. With early and absentee voting for the Nov. 3 general election set to begin next week, in-state residents wanting to register by mail will need a notary’s signature on their application.

Wyoming is the only state that requires a notarized signature for mailed-in voter registration forms, Equality State Policy Center Executive Director Chris Merrill told the committee Friday.

“In most states these days, voters can go to the Secretary State’s website and register online,” said Merrill, who also noted more than a dozen states, unlike Wyoming, have automatic voter registration at the DMV.

After Merrill’s testimony, committee co-chair Sen. Bill Landen, R-Casper, asked Secretary of State’s Office officials to look further into the possibility of online voter registration ahead of their next meeting.

The legislation before the committee Friday, meanwhile, focused solely on notaries themselves, as it would allow people who do business in Wyoming to become notaries while living in a bordering state.

“Residents of a neighboring state becoming a Wyoming notary, that was a big deal, especially in the state of Idaho,” Janes said. “We have a lot of residents of Idaho who work in Wyoming, so we have included that into the draft.”

Though they didn’t take a final vote on it, lawmakers did approve some amendments to the lengthy piece of legislation. They decided to strike the added felony penalty for notaries who “knowingly and willfully” violate their duties, with multiple legislators noting other criminal statutes would cover any issues of fraud.

Members of the committee will likely further amend and consider advancing the bill during their next meeting Nov. 10-11.