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Talk about stumbling out of the gate.

This presidential election is among the most important in recent memory, one that is crucial to the Democratic Party. And it comes at a time when American voters remain worried about the integrity of the election system itself. Not the best time for an epic fail, but that’s what the Iowa Democratic Party delivered Monday night.

Call them the gang that couldn’t count straight.

Not having Iowa caucus results Monday night — or Tuesday morning, with no clear sign of when we’ll get them — is an annoyance for the candidates, who have already moved their campaign focus to New Hampshire (or in some cases are delaying announcements that they’re quitting).

More: In embarrassing twist, Democrats have no Iowa caucus results

More: High-profile Iowa poll won’t be released

The campaigns tend to have their own internal reporting system, so the candidates have a pretty good idea of how they did. But the lack of an official (or near-official) count deadens any bounce the top performers might have been able to use to both raise money and persuade New Hampshire Democrats that they have the best chance of beating President Trump in the fall.

Unfortunately for the candidates, the spotlight that should be focused on them and on who has the momentum instead is on how badly the party screwed this up. And that could finally end Iowa’s run as the first-in-the-nation contest (my colleague Mariel Garza wrote about that on Monday).

The bigger impact is on election credibility. Yes, the Iowa caucuses were a Democratic Party event and not a state-run election, but to not have results available because of an apparent technical problem invites even further skepticism from a public already concerned about election security and reliability.

Russian meddling in the 2016 election was aimed in part at undermining public faith in the democratic process. The Iowa Democratic Party’s broad systemic failure Monday achieves a similar result, and will launch a blizzard of conspiracy theories — especially among backers of Bernie Sanders who already believe the national Democratic Party was in the tank for Hillary Clinton four years ago (as, for that matter, does Sanders).

Just what the process needs — more turbulence and disinformation.

And of course this Iowa debacle gives the Republicans an opening to sow more distrust while mocking their rivals, as Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale did late Monday with an apples-and-oranges-mixing email.

“It would be natural for people to doubt the fairness of the process,” Parscale said. “And these are the people who want to run our entire health care system?”

Yeah, and the guy who couldn’t put Kansas City, Mo., in the right state wants to be commander in chief again?

Still, the Democrats invited this.

The Iowa stumble apparently arose from adoption of a new cellphone app for reporting results, and a volunteer staff of precinct captains who didn’t embrace what turned out to be balky technology and tried to call in results instead to a phone bank that apparently wasn’t designed for the volume. And the app itself apparently had some coding issues, further muddling things.

In the end, collapse.

But explanations like that don’t exactly restore confidence. And it’s not like this was a last-minute event. They had four years to prepare for this, to test the app, to train their people, to make sure there was a reliable backup system.

Yet they botched the execution. That’s going to be hard to recover from.

— Scott Martelle, who joined the Los Angels Times editorial board in 2014, is a veteran journalist and author of six history books.

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