Hickman, indicating that he wasn’t particularly amenable to that communication, told Ward he couldn’t speak to Trump about ongoing litigation in the county. That call ultimately wouldn’t come until weeks later.
When it did come on New Year’s Eve, Hickman ignored it because he was out with his wife and didn’t recognize the Washington, D.C., area code. When he later checked his voicemail, it turned out to be the White House switchboard asking him to return a call so he could speak with Trump. Hickman ignored the request and eventually deleted the voicemail.
Several days after receiving that message, the recording surfaced of Trump badgering Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes“ votes to overturn his loss in the Peach State. After listening to the recording on Jan. 3, Hickman effectively decided to ghost the president of the United States.
“I was horrified,” Hickman said.
That same night, at 9:22 p.m. — approaching midnight in Washington — his phone buzzed again. It was the same area code again. He let it go to voicemail again.
“Hello, sir. This is the White House operator I was calling to let you know that the president’s available to take your call if you’re free,” the voicemail said. “If you could please give us a call back, sir, that’d be great. You have a good evening.”
Hickman said he presumed Trump would try to pressure him to change the election results or outline election conspiracies, just as he had done to Georgia officials, so he never returned that call, either.
At the time, election litigation was ongoing, and Hickman sought to avoid anything that would impugn his neutrality. He also wasn’t thrilled with the idea of being browbeaten by the most powerful person in the country.
But Trump wasn’t the only person who sought to pressure the five-member Maricopa County board. Ward’s pressure campaign started just days after the election and lasted months. She did everything from declaring the board members “unAmerican” to urging a hand count she called “CRUCIAL.”
“Make this happen!” she texted Hickman on Nov. 7, after complaining of problems with tabulation machines.
After Hickman pressed for specifics, Ward responded, “We need you to stop the counting.”
On Nov. 13, the day Biden was projected to beat Trump in Georgia, Ward began messaging Hickman at 5:38 a.m. She asked him to “at least get an independent computer expert” to look into whether there were issues counting some ballots, given questions over the use of markers on ballots.
“Not someone who already works there,” she wrote. “These ballots can be counted manually, assuming nobody deleted the folder holding the ambiguous ballot scans. If the folder was deleted, federal data forensics teams could theoretically undelete it and perhaps track down the person who deleted it. What if election fraud was as easy as dragging votes from one folder to another?”
When Hickman proved to be unreceptive, she sought to convince other board members. In early December, Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani also got in the game.
The board ultimately did hire independent auditors who examined the voting machines and determined they had not been compromised or hacked.
Like other election officials around the country, Hickman and his family endured violent threats for his work.
For a time after the election, Hickman received death threats. Protesters showed up at his house, sheriff’s deputies were dispatched to protect him and his family there, and his wife got a phone call from someone threatening sexual violence, he said. He rarely left his house but remembers doing so on the night of Jan. 6, after a pro-Trump mob rioted at the U.S. Capitol and the same day his role as a chair of the Board of Supervisors came to an end.
“This has just been a troubling time in my public service, really, that’s all I can say,” he said. “I didn’t do public service for this.”
One of Hickman’s GOP colleagues, Jack Sellers, has since taken over as chair of the board and said the entire episode continues to be a distraction from other pressing priorities. Sellers also expressed disgust at how Trump and his allies treated Hickman, who had supported Trump.
“It’s just incredible how little it took for the president and all the president’s men to turn on the people that have been very faithful to him,” Sellers told AZCentral.
Sounds like Trump and his henchmen continue to play this all beautifully in the state’s most populous and most politically important county.