Stamp of disapproval

Notary publics tied up in state's Kafkaesque approval process

Notary publics are expected to be persnickety on details, but the state's authorization process is exasperating even them. (Shutterstock)

Notary publics are expected to be persnickety on details, but the state's authorization process is exasperating even them. (Shutterstock)

By Sandra Guy

Think finding a notary is tough when you need one to OK your identification in an emergency?

It just might get tougher in Illinois, if one 28-year veteran notary’s experience attempting to renew her commission is any indication.

Desiree Grode says the process has gotten to resemble Franz Kafka’s novel "The Castle": on the surface, an endlessly frustrating battle against a faceless bureaucracy, and on a deeper level an allegory about an individual’s futile struggle for recognition and acceptance.

It also means lost business for a notary stuck in the labyrinth.

Grode’s first effort to renew her commission was rejected May 21 in an email from the National Notary Association, an organization that checks notaries’ applications before they’re sent to the appropriate state agency. It read: “[The] notary’s signature does not match seal on Notarial Oath. New application required.”

Apparently the woman who’d notarized Grode’s signature on her renewal application had added a little squiggle that the National Notary Association determined “didn’t match” the signature on Grode’s notarial oath. The association advised Grode that, because of the errant squiggle, the Office of the Illinois Secretary of State would reject her application.

Surprised to hear this, Grode followed up with a supervisor at the notary association, who thought the rejection was unfounded, but advised her to submit a second renewal application in any case.

Grode’s second application — notarized by someone who’s been doing it for 18 years — was rejected on June 6. This time the notary association said this second notary’s stamp had an initial while her name on the secretary of state’s website did not.

Yet prior website entries showed that the second notary had consistently used her initial.

After she got the second rejection, Grode instructed the notary association supervisor to try submitting her first renewal application to the secretary of state’s office after all.

“I have no doubt that I could submit a renewal application 10 times notarized by 10 different notaries and have the same rejections,” she says.

Now Grode has to wait four to six weeks to see whether her application will be accepted by the state.

And she’s not alone in having to bide her time: one new notary applicant says it took her 10 months to get her application approved, and Grode says a new notary applicant told her that several others had found the procedure long and complicated.

The man responsible for reviewing applications that pass the notary association is David Weisbaum, director of the Index Department at the secretary of state’s office. He acknowledges that applications go through lots of hands. But he says the notary association is doing people a favor by making sure their applications are correct so they don’t waste time sending one that’s unacceptable to the state agency.

On top of that, Weisbaum said that for three years the secretary of state’s notary data has been hooked up to the Cook County Clerk’s office to speed things up for applicants during the next stage of the process.

“When we complete the application, the notary information and/or a notary certificate is sent to the county clerk,” he said. “The county clerk then contacts the notary and tells him or her that he has to submit a registration form with his or her signature and a fee within 30 days. If that doesn’t happen, the county sends out another reminder.”

That may still sound like a bureaucratic nightmare, but Weisman says that over the next several years his office is looking to speed things up further: “We’re working on letting people file electronically for the certificate and setting up a kiosk at the clerk’s office."

Editor's note: This story is reprinted in an ongoing partnership with the Chicago Reader. One Illinois previously shared a travel piece on Savanna and Galena with the Reader.