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Digital transformation

First of Its Kind Research Analyzes Disparities in Access to Notaries

The new report from the Urban Institute examines how access to notaries varies state-by-state and highlights gaps in access in the nation’s largest state.
May 23, 2023
5 mins

More than 1.25 billion documents are notarized each year. We won’t bore you with the math, but that nets out to be 40 documents per second — for everything ranging from closing on your first home to making critical life decisions about the medical care of a loved one. For everyone, from everywhere, to every kind of transaction type, there’s one consistent requirement: a notary public.

However, despite the importance of notary publics in our everyday lives and communities, a new report by the Urban Institute titled, “The Geography of Notaries Public,” shows that not everyone has equal access to these services.

The report - which looks at 16 states with broad geographic coverage - makes important discoveries about our access to notaries and highlights important gaps that we need to address.

Accessibility & Population

Comparing data from the Census Bureau and Secretaries of State, the Urban Institute found that access to notaries varies greatly both between states and within states. We see this play out in two different ways:

  • Florida (HIGH Per Capita): While the state reports the highest per capita count across those examined (19 notaries for every 1,000 people), the larger population does not guarantee that someone will live in a neighborhood with access to those notaries. The report found that while Florida has the highest number of notaries per capita, some neighborhood’s accessibility figures were similar to states with the lowest number of notaries.
  • California (LOW Per Capita): Despite being the largest state by population, California has one of the lowest rates of notaries per capita in the country (3.5 notaries for every 1,000 people).

The Social & Economic Impact

Across all states, the Urban Institute found that lower-income areas had less access to notaries than wealthier areas. 

  • The average number of notaries per capita in wealthier areas is 2X that of lower-income areas.
  • In California, wealthier areas have 7X the number of notaries per capita than the lowest-income areas of the state.
  • In Connecticut, wealthier areas have 2.6X the number of notaries than lower-income areas.

Across all states, accessibility was greater in more urban areas than in rural communities. 

  • In CA, the average number of notaries per capita in urban areas was more than 3X that of rural areas.

What Can We Do?

While the report does not make a formal policy recommendation, there is one clear solution that state’s can apply to address these gaps in access: online notarization.

Whether access in a state is limited across neighborhoods, income, community type, or by the number of commissioned notaries, lawmakers can implement online notarization to help alleviate these burdens. Bringing notarization online allows notaries to provide services across more areas of a state and connect with more people who need those services each day.

Speaking during a webinar hosted by the Urban Institute this month, Notarize Founder and CEO, Pat Kinsel had this to say about the institute’s findings:

What has been so rewarding to me is how much the benefits are now starting to actually be realized. I am actually an eighth-generation Californian, and I’m shocked by the research. In a state that people think of as being at the vanguard of digitization and also equity, to only have 3.5 notaries for such important transactions in people’s lives is wild — and to have such a disparity with wealthier communities having 7x the population of notaries or access to notaries as less fortunate communities — really speaks to me, the whole entire point here in that nothing is more convenient than accessing something in your pocket.

For example, even though accessibility varies across Florida neighborhoods, thanks to a 2019 law, Florida’s notaries can use online notarization to reach people across the state regardless of what neighborhood they live in.

On the other hand, California, one of the least accessible states examined in the report, does not have an online notarization law. Lawmakers can pass one that would allow the state’s existing population of notaries to serve more of the state’s residents simply by allowing notaries to dedicate more of their time meeting with members of the community as opposed to waiting in traffic.

What Next?

While more work is needed to understand all of the forces behind these trends, the report makes clear that access to notary services is far from consistent across the country. We need to fix that.

At Notarize, we’re proud to connect consumers to notary services and are passionate about ensuring that everyone has access to a notary public. 

We will continue to work with lawmakers across the country to implement online notarization laws and help notaries deliver their services to more people, regardless of demographics.

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