A volunteer displays jars of dried cannabis buds.
Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Six big votes to watch during today’s elections

Updated

While many Americans may be focused on the 2016 presidential race – still 371 days away – there are plenty of other heated elections and issues being voted on today.

From legalizing marijuana to gay rights and to gun control, to heated gubernatorial and state races across the country, here are six state storylines to keep a close eye on during Tuesday’s off-year election:

Ohio could legalize marijuana

MSNBC Live with José Díaz-Balart, 11/3/15, 9:41 AM ET

Big names back marijuana legislation in Ohio

Today voters in Ohio are considering a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use. This legalization has gained financial backing from celebrities including boy-band star Nick Lachey, fashion designer Nanette Lepore an
Voters in the Buckeye State will decide whether or not to allow the recreational and medical use of marijuana at the same time. While residents would be able to grow four plants for personal use, commercial cultivation would only be allowed on 10 farms—a controversial provision that would create an oligopoly predicted to make billions of dollars.

If the measure passes, Ohio would become the first state in the Midwest to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Polling on the issue has been too close to call.

In Kentucky, Bevin faces off against Conway

With Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear ineligible to run for re-election due to term limits, the race to replace him has become one of the most watched this election cycle. Republican businessman Matt Bevin (who last year unsuccessfully tried to take on Sen. Mitch McConnell) is up against Democratic Attorney General Jack Conway (who lost a 2010 challenge to Republican Sen. Rand Paul).

Medicaid expansion has become a key issue in the race. While Conway wants to continue the program through President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, Bevin, a tea party favorite, has promised to undo expansion of the state’s program – affecting 400,000 residents already on Medicaid.

Voter turnout on Tuesday will be crucial. Some polls have showed Conway ahead by about five points, while others show them essentially tied.

Control of the Virginia Senate is up for grabs

Tuesday could be a tipping point for Democrats in Virginia. All 140 seats in the state’s General Assembly will be voted on today, including 40 in the state Senate. Democrats only need to pick up one seat to flip the state Senate from red to blue, giving Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe the strength he needs (even with a GOP majority in the House of Delegates) to help  advance his agenda on issues including Medicaid expansion and gun control.

The issue of gun control in particular has resulted in a number of outside groups trying to sway the race. Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s nonprofit Everytown for Gun Safety has reportedly poured more than $2 million into ads backing two Democratic Senate candidates, while the National Rifle Association is giving money to several GOPers.

Gay rights on the line in Houston

Voters in America’s fourth largest city will determine whether or not to approve a measure to protect gay and transgender people from discrimination.

Proposition 1, known as Houston’s Equal Rights Ordinance, would protect people from discrimination in employment, housing and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.

RELATED: Major LGBT rights ordinance put to the test

Opponents argue the measure would allow male sex predators to use women’s restrooms. Proponents say Prop 1 is about equal rights and that the measure doesn’t change existing laws banning indecent exposure and assaults. Polling and early voting results show the issue is a tossup.

Silicon Valley faces backlash in San Francisco

Airbnb and the sharing economy are facing a big test in San Francisco, where voters will cast ballots on whether to impose regulations on short-term rentals.

Proposition F would limit the number of nights a unit can be rented annually to 75. Proponents argue companies like Airbnb are making the lack of affordable housing worse as units are being treated like hotel rooms. Airbnb has spent more than $8 million in hopes of defeating the proposition.

Scandal-plagued pols attempt a comeback in Michigan

Republicans Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat are attempting to win back their seats in Michigan’s House of Representatives after Courser resigned and Gamrat was expelled earlier this year following their extramarital affair.

It wasn’t your typical dalliance. Courser faked a gay sex scandal to cover up his romantic relationship with Gamrat, a fellow tea partier. A probe into whether the two broke any laws in attempting to cover up their affair continues.

Whoever wins Tuesday’s primaries will go on to compete in a special general election on March 8.

California, Elections 2015, Gay Rights, Gun Policy, Jack Conway, Kentucky, Marijuana, Matt Bevin, Michigan, MSNBC's Super Tuesday, Ohio, Terry McAuliffe, Texas and Virginia

Six big votes to watch during today's elections

Updated