Image - sisters vote
First-time voter Alejandra Ortega shares her pride in casting her ballot for her younger sister, a candidate for La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District governing board. Photo courtesy of Alejandra Ortega

Regardless of party affiliation, hundreds of thousands of San Mateo County voters made their voices heard in this month’s midterm elections, fueled by a strong sense of political urgency. But for first-time voter Alejandra Ortega, casting her vote felt immensely personal, too. 

Ortega’s younger sister, Monica Resendiz, was on the ballot as a candidate for the La Honda-Pescadero Unified School District’s governing board.

“Just seeing somebody that we all know who is (running) for a leadership role is important for the community,” said Ortega, Puente’s fund development associate. “It’s nice to have them see that. And for other community members to see that they can do that, too.” 

So far, Resendiz has a commanding lead in the race for an open seat on the LHPUSD board. Although the local election results are still being tabulated, she has outstripped her challengers by nearly 150 votes. 

If elected, Resendiz, 29, will be the first Latina to serve on the district board. 

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen a Latina who is bilingual and has grown up in this community before,” said Resendiz. “But it’s also about building awareness. I know a lot of Latino parents who are part of the school (system), but didn’t know much about the board before now.”

But despite the high stakes on election night, Ortega described her Tuesday evening as “small but cheerful.” The sisters — as well as Ortega’s husband and children —crowded around a laptop at the kitchen table, clicking and refreshing the election results as they were updated each hour. 

With the news humming along in the background, the family watched the screen with mounting anticipation. 

“As first-time voters, it was exciting,” said Ortega. “We just wanted to see the numbers for my sister’s candidacy.

“We were more excited about that than about some of the other people running for office,” she added with a laugh. 

Both Ortega and Resendiz voted for the first time this month — the first election in which the sisters were eligible to vote. After coming to the U. S. at the age of 5, Ortega said, for years, she was hesitant to become a citizen due to steep application fees. 

But in early 2017, the young women finally acquired their citizenship. 

“One of the things that motivated us to become residents was seeing all of these changes that Trump was making to the administration,” she said. “The fact that non-residents might not be as protected motivated us — and a lot of other people —not just to become citizens, but also to vote.”  

“That really drove a lot of people to have more of a voice,” added Ortega. 

As a first-time voter, Ortega said she struggled to untangle the thorny assortment of unfamiliar candidates and complex, seemingly contradictory propositions. 

Her sister acted as an encyclopedia of election knowledge, sending links with bipartisan information and advising her to check the candidate’s supporters.  

Ortega said she took frequent breaks while completing her sample ballot. But she was surprised to find some Spanish-speaking community members who said they had simply checked off boxes, without knowing who or what they were voting for. 

“Who can we get to support us to have this information or know where it is?” asked Ortega. “It’s a lot. It’s important right now, but two years from now, it’s going to be even more important to have that information.”

Now, Ortega said that she feels better equipped to engage with politics in Pescadero and beyond. 

“I’m going to try to do a little bit more to be aware of politics,” said Ortega. “I want to know who’s running for what and what they’re doing, especially locally. 

I have two children, so I want to support their education and give them those opportunities. 

“Not just my kids, but all the kids in our community,” she added. 

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