NC Republican releases ad claiming Secretary of State commissioned illegal immigrants as notaries public

Capitol Report

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – A Republican candidate looking to unseat longtime Sec. of State Elaine Marshall (D) is out with a new ad claiming Marshall has commissioned people in the country illegally to serve as notaries public.

Businessman E.C. Sykes (R) released the ad this week in which a man speaking about him mentions his pledge to “end illegal aliens as notary publics here in North Carolina.”

This issue goes back decades, but got attention in the 2016 race for Secretary of State and again the next year when Republicans in the General Assembly discussed impeaching Marshall. Ultimately, they did not move forward with that.

Marshall has served as secretary of state since winning election to the office for the first time in 1996. She is running for re-election this year.  

Aside from Sykes, there are two other Republicans running in the primary: Chad Brown and Michael LaPaglia.

LaPaglia won the party’s nomination in 2016 and brought up this issue during the campaign. When CBS17 contacted him this week, he claimed Marshall’s office had approved more than 600 people in the country illegally to serve as notaries public. He said he learned this through contacts in the General Assembly.

Sykes did not respond to requests for comment, including whether he has any evidence that Marshall has not followed the law.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1984 that a person does not have to be a U.S. citizen to serve as a notary public. According to the American Society of Notaries, “The resident alien notary applicant must be in the country legally, however.”

In 2016, Marshall’s office sought an advisory letter from the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office regarding this issue.

Assistant Attorney General Jeremy Lindsey wrote, “Thus it is self-evident that if a non-citizen holds a valid (Employment Authorization Document), USCIS has also determined that the individual is lawfully present in the United States.

“It is my opinion that since holders of USCIS-issued EADs have been determined by USCIS to be lawfully present in the United States, such persons necessarily meet the ‘reside legally’ requirements of N.C. Gen. Stat. 10B-5(b)(3). In my opinion, such persons, if otherwise qualified, can be commissioned notaries public in North Carolina.”

After this story was published, LaPaglia reached out to CBS17 to say he disagrees with the attorney general’s advisory letter and maintains that Sec. Marshall has violated state and federal law.

“On the state level, they use some very circular reasoning inside the attorney general’s office, basically saying well if you’re accepting the document, continue accepting the document. It must be OK to accept, so continue accepting the document,” LaPaglia said. “I really think they’re in a tight spot right now, and know they’ve got to figure out a way to deal with this and don’t have a way to do it.”

If elected, he said he plans to decommission the roughly 600 notaries he says Marshall has improperly approved.

“The policy will be compliant with North Carolina law, compliant with U.S. federal law. If you’re a citizen or permanent resident alien green card holder, you are eligible to become a notary in North Carolina. I will revoke the commissions of all ineligible notaries,” he said. “There will be a lawsuit brought that I’m infringing on their rights under the 14th Amendment. I do not believe it will bear out. But, I said in 2016 that it’ll probably be a constitutional case that’ll go all the way to the United States Supreme Court to determine the validity of all these actions.”

In an email to CBS17, Tim Crowley, a spokesman for Sec. Marshall, wrote, “The NC Secretary of State’s office has never commissioned a notary public on the basis of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) status. The Secretary of State makes its commission decisions based on who the federal government has determined can legally work in the U.S. Three kinds of federal documentation qualify—permanent resident cards, employee authorization forms, and some visas that authorize work.  We have openly communicated to the General Assembly about the process, including multiple presentations to committees over the years. We have told the General Assembly that if they want to change the notary law, we will administer such changes. Not one single change has been sent to us to administer in this area.

“Every single non-citizen we have commissioned as a notary public has presented the appropriate federally-issued work authorization documentation to qualify.  Many of these notaries work in banks, or law offices, or car dealerships and their employer desires a notary commission as part of their job duties.

“Three governmental agencies are involved in the process. Before applying for a commission through the Secretary of State, a notary candidate must have completed a course through a trained instructor and pass a test through a local community college or other institution of higher education. After the Secretary of State reviews the application, they must also be sworn-in by their county Register of Deeds.”

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