In 2011, he ran for the Virginia Senate as a Republican, losing to Democrat Dick Saslaw; after the election, Sarvis switched to the Libertarian Party. He was the Libertarian Party of Virginia's nominee for Governor of Virginia in the 2013 election, finishing third behind Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli, and he was the nominee for the U.S. Senate in the 2014 midterm election.
Sarvis was born on September 15, 1976 in Fairfax, Virginia to a father of English and Irish descent and a mother of Chinese descent. Growing up in West Springfield, he attended Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, a public magnet school and one of Virginia's "Governor's schools". In his senior year at Thomas Jefferson, Sarvis placed fourth in the 1994 Westinghouse Science Talent Search for a theoretical math project studying lattices, winning a $15,000 scholarship. Upon graduating from high school, Sarvis attended Harvard University, pursuing a bachelor's degree in mathematics and graduated in 1998. He won a prestigious Harvard College Scholarship, reserved for the top 10% of a class.
Sarvis earned a Master of Advanced Studies degree in mathematics from the University of Cambridge in England (the University of Cambridge began offering the master of advanced study in 2010 as a one-year master's degree in Mathematics as a replacement for the "Part III exam in Mathematics"). He briefly enrolled in a doctorate program at the University of California, Berkeley, leaving to join a Silicon Valley-based technology start-up as a software developer.
In 2002, Sarvis enrolled at the New York University School of Law, graduating with a J.D. in 2005. During his time at NYU, Sarvis co-founded and became editor-in-chief of the NYU Journal of Law & Liberty, a student-run, conservative-libertarian law review. Sarvis was also awarded a "Vanderbilt Medal" during law school for his work on the Journal, an honor reserved for those "who have distinguished themselves in their commitment to the Law School through their work in student groups, journals, or other Law School activities and events." He was a member of the Federalist Society while at NYU, helping sponsor events such as a legal debate "on the legal foundations and implications of recent lawsuits against fast food restaurants, gun manufacturers, and cigarette makers."
Sarvis earned a Master's degree in economics from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.
Sarvis is also a Searle Freedom Trust Fellow and served as a fellow at George Mason's Mercatus Center for research. His teaching careers also include time as a teaching fellow in the Harvard math department, a course assistant for calculus at UC Berkeley as well as an algebra teacher at Western Career College, now known as Carrington College California.
Upon graduating from law school, Sarvis began clerking for Judge E. Grady Jolly on the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in Jackson, Mississippi. After his clerkship, he became an Associate Attorney for global law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. Sarvis has also held Summer Associate positions at law firms such as Kirkland & Ellis and Fish & Neave. In 2006, Sarvis penned a 40-page article in the University of New Hampshire's Pierce Law Review expressing concern over congressional delegation of legislative responsibilities to the executive branch, and support for increased formalism in separation of powers.
Sarvis is a member of the New York State Bar and DC Bar.
In 2008, Sarvis left his position at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to resume work in the software development business - which he had worked in between his time at Berkeley and his time in law school. Along with several others, he founded the company Wertago, to develop apps for Google's Android operating system. The Wertago development team entered in Google's 2008 Android developer challenge, creating software billed to connect friends during the night and search for parties and gatherings. Wertago was one of Google's top-50 grand prize winners, receiving $275,000 as a team in addition to $25,000 for each member of the development project.
Sarvis supports universal school choice, drug policy reform, right-to-work laws, and protecting gun rights. Sarvis also supports same-sex marriage and says it is a personal issue for him because his own marriage, which is biracial, was illegal in Virginia 50 years ago. Sarvis opposed the controversial transportation package, Virginia H.B. 2313, which increased the sales tax and was signed into law by Virginia governor Bob McDonnell; Sarvis said the bill was a "mistake" arguing that, "We should have moved closer to a system in which users pay for the transportation infrastructure they use. Instead, we moved in the opposite direction." Sarvis also opposes medicaid expansion citing: "Medicaid expansion comes with diminishing federal subsidies over time, meaning expansion now will lead inexorably to future state-level spending increases and tax increases and the crowding out of other spending priorities." In addition, Sarvis wants to end various taxes such as the car tax and occupational license tax and has called for tax reform with a focus on a more uniform and rule of law-based tax system. Sarvis also called for an end to "the increasing aggressiveness of law enforcement tactics" after Virginia ABC agents mistook a crate of sparkling water for a case of beer which led to a late-night altercation with University of Virginia students; Sarvis proposed shifting law enforcement from the ABC, the state agency tasked with policing liquor sales, to state and local police and for Virginia to end its eighty-year state monopoly on liquor sales.
In 2011, Sarvis ran unopposed for the Republican nomination for State Senate in the heavily Democratic-leaning Virginia's 35th district. In the general election in November, he lost to Democrat Dick Saslaw, then the Senate Majority Leader, 62% to 36%. Sarvis was outspent by his opponent Saslaw $1,897,061 to $26,402.
Shortly after attending the 2012 Young Republican Federation of Virginia Biennial Convention as a delegate, Sarvis left the Republican Party, saying that "I realized that the Republican Party, at least in Virginia, in the current era, is not a good vehicle for liberty candidates. Republicans are very strident on personal issues. When they talk about liberty, they don’t mean any personal issues, there is very little respect for personal autonomy."
On April 21, 2013, the Libertarian Party of Virginia held a special convention and nominated Sarvis as the party's gubernatorial candidate.
On June 11, 2013, Sarvis' campaign submitted over 17,000 signatures to meet the Virginia State Board of Elections (SBE) requirement of 10,000 valid signatures. He was recognized by the SBE as an official candidate and became ballot qualified on June 26, 2013. As the Libertarian Party gubernatorial nominee, he became the fourth minor party nominee in forty years to get on the Virginia ballot.
Sarvis ran against Republican Ken Cuccinelli and Democrat Terry McAuliffe in the race. Between McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, a May 2013 Washington Post poll showed 40% of Virginians said they wished someone else were running, and a Charlottesville-area poll conducted by the University of Virginia showed 36% of voters were undecided. With a high percentage of disillusioned and undecided voters and the Virginia gubernatorial election called the "Top 2013 Race to Watch", some political observers said Sarvis may split the Cuccinelli-McAuliffe vote and possibly spur a debate before the 2014 national elections.
Sarvis said he would "debate anybody anywhere under any conditions." Sarvis was not invited to the debates, even though some Virginia newspapers, like the Richmond Times Dispatch, The Roanoke Times, The Free Lance-Star and The Daily Progress, published articles calling for his inclusion. In addition, WUSA-TV news anchor Derek McGinty, who moderated the Battleground Forum, called for the inclusion of Sarvis. Because of the exclusion of Sarvis, some political observers, like the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity's project watchdog.org, said the number one thing missing was the invitation to include Sarvis, and Barton Hinkle, who is the senior editorial writer and columnist at the Richmond Times Dispatch, called the debate process "stacked" suggesting that the debate organizers were activists trying to influence the outcome of the election for their own ideological purposes. Others also expressed concern about the exclusion of Sarvis and questioned the motives of the debate organizers.
In addition, Sarvis had been omitted from some major polls. After public pressure, Quinnipiac announced it would begin to include Sarvis, and in a September 2013 poll, Quinnipiac found Sarvis "could be key" in the contested election because he drew about equally from the Republican and Democratic candidates. Rasmussen also announced it would include Sarvis in subsequent surveys. Sarvis was also included in polls released by other polling groups. Within a month of receiving ballot access, Sarvis was polling as high as 7% in July 2013 according to Public Policy Polling, and he drew about equally from both McAuliffe and Cuccinelli according to Roanoke College. Emerson College Polling had Sarvis as high as 10% in August 2013, and Sarvis also polled at 10% in September 2013 according to Harper Polling, which claimed Sarvis' support comes from Democrats and Republicans as well as independents and third party voters, which includes Libertarians. A Newsmax/Zogby poll listed Sarvis at 13% in late September 2013, and another poll by Politico had Sarvis pulling 12% in October 2013.
Given Sarvis' strength in the polls, some political commentators noted the long-term implications his run could have for the Libertarian Party of Virginia. According to the Code of Virginia subsection 24.2-101, if a political party receives 10 percent of the total vote cast then it is defined as a recognized party. This fact would lead career journalist James Bacon to say the financial advantages and electoral coverage conferred to the Libertarian Party should Sarvis obtain ten percent of the vote "would be huge", and the Richmond Times Dispatch published, "If (Sarvis) garners at least 10 percent of the vote, the Libertarian Party would win official party recognition in Virginia through the November 2016 election, including elections for U.S. Senate in 2014 and U.S. President in 2016."
In August 2013, Sarvis was endorsed by former Republican Governor of New Mexico Gary Johnson, who was the Libertarian Party nominee for the 2012 presidential election. However, former Republican U.S. Representative of Texas Ron Paul, who has a large following among fiscal conservatives, social liberals, and libertarians, and whom himself was the Libertarian candidate for President in 1988, endorsed Cuccinelli in October 2013.
On September 25, 2013, Sarvis debuted his first televised campaign ad during the showing of the NBC4 debate; it aired in Northern Virginia. The ad would lead Peter Galuszka of The Washington Post to say Sarvis "won" the gubernatorial debate, even though Sarvis was not invited to the debate. Near the end of the campaign, Purple PAC, a Libertarian-leaning super PAC, launched a six-figure television ad buy designed to boost the Sarvis campaign before election day; the ad first aired during the televised Virginia Tech debate on October 24, 2013.
On election day, Sarvis obtained over 145,000 votes, or approximately 6.5% of the total vote cast, a number nearly three times the size of McAuliffe's victory margin over Cuccinelli, and nearly seven times better than Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson from the year before. Sarvis' performance was the best performance among any Libertarian running for governor in Virginia, among the top three strongest among any Libertarian candidate running in a state gubernatorial election, and the best performance for a third party gubernatorial candidate in the U.S. South in nearly 40 years.
According to campaign finance reporting, Sarvis received $222,127. The bulk of contributions primarily came from individual donations; Sarvis was the largest single financial contributor to his own campaign at $21,057.
On election day, Glenn Beck's multimedia outlet, The Blaze, reported that Sarvis' campaign was partly financed by software billionaire Joe Liemandt. Liemandt, founder of the software company Trilogy and an Obama campaign contributor, was the largest single contributor to the Libertarian Booster PAC. The Libertarian Booster PAC contributed $11,454 to Sarvis' campaign, or approximately 5% of Sarvis' total contributions, to help Sarvis achieve ballot access. To obtain the signatures necessary to receive statewide ballot access in Virginia, it has been quoted to cost between $45,000 to $90,000. Because of Liemandt's contribution to the Libertarian Booster PAC and because of the Libertarian Booster PAC's contribution to Sarvis, it would lead Rush Limbaugh to say, "the Democrats enlisted a 'fake Libertarian candidate' who was 'bought and paid for by an Obama bundler.'"
Two days after the election, Wes Benedict, who founded the Libertarian Booster PAC and was the Executive Director for the Libertarian National Committee, released a statement countering Limbaugh's accusations, said Limbaugh's comment was an "outright lie" and called upon Limbaugh to retract the allegations. In an interview with US News and World Report, Sarvis denied Limbaugh's accusations against him, saying they were false and part of a GOP "smear campaign." Sarvis also noted that many of the direct donors to his campaign had given to Republicans in the past.
On January 29, 2014, Sarvis announced his candidacy for the United States Senate seat in Virginia held by Democrat Mark Warner, who was running for re-election. Sarvis received the nomination of the Libertarian Party of Virginia for that office on February 8, 2014. Sarvis faced Warner and Republican nominee Ed Gillespie in the general election.
Sarvis submitted over 19,000 total signatures to the Virginia State Board of Elections (SBE), and on June 26, 2014, he received notification that he had achieved statewide ballot access. Upon receiving statewide ballot access, Sarvis stated, "The ballot-qualification process is designed to be long and arduous, to minimize competition against the vested interests that control our politics." Neither Warner nor Gillespie had to submit signatures to the SBE.
Sarvis received endorsements from The Virginia Liberty Party, founder and past chairman of the Mechanicsville and King William Tea Party groups Robert Shannon, Our America PAC and former Governor of New Mexico and 2012 Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson. In addition, Republican activist Caleb Coulter left the GOP in August in order to work for the Sarvis campaign: Coulter had represented the Republican Party of Virginia at the 2012 Republican National Convention, had run for the Virginia House of Delegates, and was an executive committee member Roanoke City Republican Committee.
Throughout the campaign, Sarvis challenged both Warner and Gillespie as well as staking divergent points from the major political parties on other issues. Sarvis challenged Warner's voting record, including Warner's vote to amend the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. Sarvis questioned Gillespie's record as Chairman of the Republican National Committee and as a Bush-era official. Sarvis also called for congressional authorization against ISIL after President Barack Obama's televised address regarding military action. In addition, Sarvis discussed topics including the national debt, foreign policy, national surveillance issues, the Affordable Care Act, transportation and energy issues, and immigration.
Sarvis was accused by both Republicans and Democrats of being secretly funded by the other side. In response, Sarvis asserted that he was not a "plant." In addition, conservative commentator Ann Coulter issued a sweeping statement in September that she would "drown" anyone "considering voting for the Libertarian candidate in any Senate election." This prompted Reason Magazine writer Ronald Bailey to defy Coulter's threat by giving Coulter his address and vowing to vote for Sarvis.
Sarvis also challenged Warner and Gillespie to debate. The first debate was held on July 26 at The Greenbrier in West Virginia. Sarvis was not invited, with VBA president John L. Walker III saying that he didn't qualify under their criteria for invitations. In response to his exclusion, Sarvis said, "Virginia voters lost" and some political observers, like the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity's project watchdog.org, noted that issues like surveillance and cronyism were missing from the debate. Sarvis was not invited to the second or third debates, which were hosted by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce on October 7 and by the League of Women Voters of Virginia and American Association of Retired Persons of Virginia on October 13 in Richmond, respectively.
In the general election, Sarvis received 53,021 of the 2,181,845 votes cast, or 2.43%.