ROCKVILLE, Md. (DC News Now) — Lawyers for the Maryland State Board of Elections and Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox await a decision by a judge as to whether early counting of mail-in ballots should be allowed.

Montgomery County Circuit Court Judge James Bonifant listened to arguments for an hour and a half Tuesday, with Cox opposing the early counting.

A lawyer for the board of elections contended that the state has a special “emergency” to count ballots by Oct. 1, given the heavy deluge of mail-in ballots with which it’s been dealing since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

Lawyers for Cox pushed back saying that the judge has zero authority, constitutionally, to circumvent the Maryland General Assembly.

Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed legislation that would have allowed counties to count ballots early. The general assembly did not override that veto.

The issue has become a flashpoint in Cox’s gubernatorial race against Democrat Wes Moore because Cox, who believes the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, seems to be setting up an election integrity case if the ballots are counted early.

Assistant Attorney General Daniel Kobrin rejected Cox’s team’s view, contending that Bonifant has the authority to give counties relief on a temporary basis until the state legislature can act again.

“The court’s adjustment of the calendar is a proper delegation of authority,” Kobrin contended. “What we’re asking is to temporarily suspend it. We are asking for suspension and not nullification.”

Kobrin called this a “one-time” shot and said that “we cannot come back in 2024” and ask for court relief.

State officials knew there likely would be an increase in mail-in ballots, but Kobrin said officials didn’t know how would the system, the electoral framework of Maryland, would handle it.

As of Tuesday, Sept. 20, there already were 524,000 requests for mail-in ballots this year, Kobrin said, which was up from 508,000 for the primary.

But Edward Hartman, one of two lawyers for Cox, said although his side sympathizes with the election board, it isn’t the court’s problem.

With the governor’s rejection in May, Hartman said the legislature had time to act, given “they posses the numbers to do” so, but hadn’t.

Bonifant interjected that they need “the authority of the governor to do it.”

“What do you do when you know that the legislature is going to begin to allow this to be a regular course of action? You ramp up. You take measures to do things,” Hartman told the judge. “Maybe you hire more people. This is not our purview.”

At a news conference after the hearing, Cox said this is all about the Constitution and that it limits these ballots being counted.

“This is a day about preserving our constitutional and legal integrity in Maryland. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s nothing to step back from,” Cox said. “It is our position that the Constitution allows the legislature to make these rules and particularly midstream in the middle of an election, it just undermines the confidence of the voters who we have faith in in Maryland.”

Cox declined to answer questions about whether he’d appeal if Bonifant rules against him or whether he’d abide by the election results in November.

Bonifant will hold a 3 p.m. hearing on Friday, Sept. 23 to announce his decision.