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Notary Error Disqualifies Incumbent State Rep, Could Cost Citizens Thousands

House of Representatives

A pair of mistakes made by two different notaries has blocked Rep. Reggie Fullwood (D-Jacksonville) from appearing on the ballot in the next election. Because Fullwood was the only candidate for the seat, taxpayers could have to foot the bill for a special election to the tune of more than $200,000. 

Fullwood says the first time he turned in his qualifying paperwork to get on the ballot, the notary he’d used for the official documents forgot to sign her own name. Later that day the Department of State called Fullwood to let him know about the error.  So, he found another notary and  headed back to Tallahassee, where all legislative candidates must show up to qualify. He turned the paperwork in again.

“About 11:50 I received a call from the Division of Elections saying my second notary didn’t check a box,” Fullwood says.

That left Fullwood with just about 10 minutes to correct the second error. He offered to send the notary back to take care of the problem, but officials told him he’d need to fill out a whole new form. Unfortunately he’d already driven back home to Jacksonville, and Fullwood says there was no way to make it back to Tallahassee in time or get an extension.

Now Fullwood is suing the state, saying he completed his part of the paperwork and should be allowed to qualify. If the suit doesn’t go Fullwood’s way, Duval County will have to hold a special election to fill the seat.

And that’s just one example of how important the work notaries do can be.

“These are the most important documents that affect people’s lives. Deeds, wills, things that are game changers and things that Floridians rely on for the biggest events in their lives,” said Sen. Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee) while speaking before the legislature’s Commerce and Tourism committee last March. Soto was pushing a bill that would have required notaries to keep a journal of their work. The bill failed, but Soto says something like that would have been very helpful for a citizen in his district.

“In my district what had happened is a gentleman who was on his deathbed and unconscious had his caretakers actually sign and create a will and a deed, and what happened was when prosecutors asked the notary if they remembered notarizing this, they plead ignorant and said they don’t remember,” Soto says.

Soto says a journal would have helped prosecutors solve that case more quickly.

National Notary Association Vice President of Legislative Affairs, Bill Anderson, says a journal likely would have helped in Fullwood’s case too.

“Most journals the notary would record what type of identification the notary used to identify that signer. So, if the notary kept a journal and if the journal kept that kind of information, that record would have been able to show that the notary did identify the signer and what means of identification were presented,” Anderson says.

And Anderson says keeping a journal would also help the governor’s office, which oversees notaries, to check into complaints made about notaries who might not be doing the best jobs.

But Fullwood says he’s not sure that kind of legislation is needed, and he says he doesn’t blame the notaries. But he says he's learned an important lesson and plans to share with others.

“I think as candidates we want to make sure the information we provided is correct, and you assume the notary has been trained properly and they know to fill it out, stamp it or whatever, so I think as candidates we probably need to scrutinize our documents a little better,” Fullwood says.

And Fullwood says while he thinks a little wiggle room or an extension for a person in a similar situation would be a good idea, he doubts he’d bring a bill like that forward if he is reelected. He adds, elections legislation has been something of a political hot potato recently. 

Follow @Regan_McCarthy

Regan McCarthy is the Assistant News Director for WFSU Public Media. Before coming to Tallahassee, Regan graduated with honors from Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism. She worked for several years for NPR member station WFIU in Bloomington, Ind., where she covered local and state government and produced feature and community stories.

Phone: (850) 645-6090 | rmccarthy@fsu.edu

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