MARYLAND (DC News Now) — Counties all across the state are preparing to begin the counting of mail-in ballots even as a court battle still looms to potentially halt it.

A three-judge appeals court panel rejected Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox’s desire to delay the ballot counting on Thursday with no reason given. But the Maryland Court of Special Appeals still could rule on the broader challenge to the early counting of mail-in votes.

The counting will begin on October 1, a change that is much needed in Montgomery County, where election officials so far have received more than 116,000 requests for these ballots – the most in any county in Maryland – for the Nov. 8 election.

Gilberto Zelaya, the spokesman for the Montgomery County Board of Elections, said the state is just starting to mail out ballots to those voters who have requested them. County officials, he said, could start to get them back as early as Oct. 8.

“The opportunity to start early will give us a head start, so on Election night we can give a robust number of the votes cast for the different and unique contests,” he said.

But the key will be getting voters to mail in their ballots much earlier than the 8 p.m. deadline on election night in November, he said.

“The relief is only as good as our voters don’t procrastinate and they return the mail-in ballots,” Zelaya said. “And then once we have a good amount of sorted returned mail-in ballots, we can initiate the canvas (counting of votes).”

Last week the Maryland State Board of Elections sought and won from a Montgomery County Circuit Court judge the right to count ballots to alleviate the crush of requested ballots that began to pick up during the coronavirus pandemic.

Maryland was the only state left in the country that did not count mail-in ballots before Election Day. The state general assembly failed to override Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto to change the law that mandates the votes be counted two days after the election. And that’s what officials feared could delay certification of certain races well into December.

But Cox, who faces Democrat Wes Moore for the governorship, protested in court over constitutional grounds and argued that the state legislature he belongs to should decide the issue, not the courts. Last Friday, he lost that battle and appealed.

Earlier this week, the county began to install 55 ballot drop boxes in various locations. Last week, overseas military ballots were sent out.