Electors of the Empire
When Vladimir Alecto became Emperor five hundred years ago by right of conquest - not that he was Emperor for very long, as he was assassinated the day of his coronation - he instituted a system that for better or worse has served as the method of choosing the Known Worlds' leader since.
Vladimir issued 40 elector rods (or vote scepters) to his allies among the noble houses, guilds and Church, and decreed that the Imperial succession would be determined by the votes these electors cast. In the chaos surrounding Vladimir's death, five of those scepters were lost or destroyed, and since then the figure of thirty-five vote scepters has remained fixed, as by precedent only an Emperor can issue new rods. Alexius has not done so, and were he to issue more rods for any but the best of reasons he might risk open rebellion or at least alienating the Advocates, the 23 electors who voted in favor of Alexius' ascension.
Vladimir's laws required a two-thirds majority of Electors to choose an Emperor, and with 23 scepters cast in his favor Alexius had just enough. A simple majority, however, is sufficient to name a Regent, and it was a succession of Regents that maintained the very weak Imperial government between the reigns of Vladimir and Alexius.
Elector rods are not just symbols; by tradition, it is the physical holder of the sceptre that casts the deciding vote. As a consequence, the scepters are escorted to Byzantium Secundus by massive fleets, as wars both open and secret have been fought over the fate of the rods. In peaceful times, theft of seizure of a vote scepter from one of the Royal Houses, the Church, or the Guilds would be a cause for war, but despite this all the scepters are kept under careful guard. Indeed, in the case of the nobility it is the possession of at least one scepter that defines a House as Royal; only the five major houses possess scepters, and it is only by attaining a scepter that one of the minor houses could hope to join their ranks. Even those minor houses which have planets to their name cannot hope to compete politically unless a vote rod is in their hand.
Vote scepters, then, are items of immense value. Specially constructed to be impossible to duplicate and almost as impossible to destroy, an elector rod means a place among the rulers of the Known Worlds for those factions that do not have one and represent a massive increase in power for those that do. The value of one of the scepters has often been compared to the value of a planet, and while it may be a little inaccurate to say Leagueheim is worth a rod someone could sell one of the scepters for Pandemonium and expect some change.
But what of the five missing scepters? Two, at least, are suspected to be destroyed by one means or another. While the scepters are almost impervious, they are not absolutely invulnerable; one was thought to be aboard Vladimir's flagship, for instance, when it crashed into the sun following his death. The other three are thought to be hidden somewhere in the Known Worlds, secreted on some lost planet or perhaps even in the hands of the inscrutable Vau or inhuman Symbiots. Were one of those five scepters to be recovered, however, it would prove an even more valuable find than one of the existing rods, because it would bring the total number of scepters up to 36, requiring a two-thirds majority of 24 to secure the throne for Alexius' heir upon the Emperor's death. While the rod could not be used to dethrone Alexius, it would mean that if its finder was not among the Advocates the Imperial line is by no means assured.