The Utah County Clerk/Auditor’s Office has developed a mobile phone application that allows couples to apply for and receive a marriage license without making a trip to the Provo office.

Designed by a team of in-house developers, the computer and phone application uses facial recognition and blockchain technology to verify the identity of marriage license applicants and send them a digitally-certified copy of their marriage license.

Previously, applicants could fill out an application online but would have to verify their identity in person. With the new system, all applicants have to do is snap a selfie and take a picture of a government-issued ID — and they can do it from anywhere in the world.

“This type of process seems ideally suited to an online environment if you can do it right and … in a way that the public will have a good experience,” said Burt Harvey, the office’s marriage license supervisor.

The online application process consists of three steps, said Jerry Chapman, the Clerk/Auditor’s Office’s programming manager. First, applications are filled out for both parties. Next, the identities of both parties are verified using facial recognition. Finally, a credit card payment is made online.

In spring 2018, the Clerk/Auditor’s Office was approached by a third-party developer with the idea of developing a statewide application to automate the marriage license process. While the county ultimately declined, the idea stuck and was passed on to the office’s information systems team, who then used Acumen facial recognition software to develop a Utah County-specific application.

Harvey said he is unaware of any other clerk/auditor’s offices that are using this technology to offer such a service. “As far as I can tell, we are the only county in the United States … where you can get a marriage license completely online,” he said.

Seventy-five couples have applied for marriage licenses online since Oct. 22, when the service went live, according to Information Systems Director Patrick Wawro. In the same time period, 250 couples have applied in person, meaning almost a quarter of applications have been completed online.

One reason the county wanted to offer such a service is to make the application process more convenient for couples getting married in Utah, some of whom come from out of state or have to miss work to complete their application in person during business hours, said deputy clerk Josh Daniels.

“It’s not always easy” to apply in person, said Mike Perry, a system analyst who helped design the application. Especially “not if you’re working full-time,” added Kendra Bryan, a programmer who worked on the project’s front-end, including the user interface.

Another motivation was to save the county money, Utah County Clerk Amelia Powers Gardner said, adding that the programming cost was around $50,000. “A full-time employee with benefits is going to cost us more than that per year,” Gardner said.

The county plans to continue refining and developing the application with the ultimate goal of making marriage licensing an entirely paperless process in which a license is emailed as soon as the officiator finalizes the marriage ceremony.

While receiving a marriage license typically takes two or three weeks when applied for traditionally, Daniels said the application, when fully developed, will allow the “whole process (to be) done in a few minutes.”

One issue the application’s developers have run into is that they have no control over the quality of the image being captured.

Even so, the application “make(s) it so much more convenient for people to interact with a vital government service,” Harvey said.

The system is still in its first month of testing. Developers will continue working out the kinks and hope to have an “end-to-end digital process” implemented by mid-2020, according to Harvey.

The Clerk/Auditor’s Office will continue allowing applicants to apply for marriage licenses in person.

To apply for a marriage license online, visit http://utahcounty.gov/Dept/ClerkAud/Marriage.html.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!