Sutter Co. set to be one of the first to offer vital electronic records

Oct. 4—After California Gov. Gavin Newsome signed Senate Bill 876 on Sept. 28, California county recorders will now have the option to deliver certified electronic versions of birth, death, and marriage records in place of traditional paper-based certificates.

Sutter County Clerk-Recorder Donna Johnston, who the county said advocated for the use of secure blockchain digital technology in 2018 and is considered part of the reason for the change in the law, said the county is slated to be one of the first counties in California to offer this electronic service.

"Having the opportunity to have an electronic birth, death, or marriage certificate delivered electronically to customers would have been extremely beneficial during the pandemic," Johnston said in a statement. "Thankfully, with the bill now becoming law, our customers will experience a higher level of service in a safe, effective, and expedited manner."

Senate Bill 876 amends a section of the California Health and Safety Code to allow all county recorders the authority and option to issue certified copies of birth, death, and marriage records by means of blockchain technology, officials said. The state of Nevada uses the same technology in its county recorder offices.

"Currently, if a customer is unable to make a request in person at the recorder's office, they will request via mail or fax," officials said. "The recorder's office will then mail the certified copies of marriage certificates on secure banknote paper with a wet signature. This whole process takes on average 10 to 20 days from the initial request to the customer receiving the document. This can impact the start of Social Security benefits, veteran's benefits, pension benefits, or any situation where official documentation of birth, death, and marriage are required."

The county said Senate Bill 876 began when Johnston advocated for electronic delivery of vitals during her time as president of the County Recorder's Association of California (CRAC) in 2018.

"Previous attempts to pass legislation for electronic copies of such records were halted because of security concerns, but this time a working group was created at the state level to vet the blockchain technology," county officials said. "Johnston worked with CRAC, who sponsored the bill, and Senate Majority Leader Emeritus Robert Hertzberg (Los Angeles), and has testified at legislative hearings from a recorder's perspective in support of the bill."

With the new legislation, the county said requests for certificates will not change.

"Customers can request and pay for the requested certificate and will have the option of receiving it as a traditional paper certificate, or an electronic certificate which includes an authentication page," officials said. "This two-page electronic certificate will be delivered via email to the customer who can then forward it to the requesting agency. The requesting agency can then verify the certificate through the blockchain using the information contained on the authentication page. An added benefit to the customer purchasing the electronic certificate is that it can be reused, stopping the need to purchase additional copies of the paper certificate."

The county said the electronic process is "more secure" than traditional methods of paper certification, which can be subject to forgery.

"Washoe County in Nevada has successfully distributed over 4,500 digital marriage certificates to customers since implementing blockchain technology in 2018," officials said. "Certificates are delivered within minutes — not just in the United States, but to destinations such as Spain, Canada, and Asian countries. Agencies that have accepted the electronically certified marriage record from Washoe County include the Social Security Administration, the Department of Motor Vehicles, cruise lines, veteran's benefits offices, and other offices that need proof of marriage. Additional Nevada counties have begun using blockchain technology to increase services to their customers."

Electronic certificates will be available at the Sutter County clerk-recorder office beginning on Jan. 1, 2023, when the law becomes official. The office will offer customers the option of a paper-based certificate in addition to the electronic certificate for a few months to introduce the new process, officials said.