Venezuela's opposition says it has given electoral authorities petitions signed by 1.8 million voters seeking President Nicolas Maduro's removal in a nationwide referendum.

The opposition statement says it decided to deliver the petitions early Monday without notifying news media to avoid potential clashes with Maduro's supporters. It says it collected more than nine times the required number of signatures in under a week.

If the National Electoral Council verifies the signatures, that would trigger a second petition drive. Twenty percent of the electorate — that's almost 4 million people — would have to sign before a referendum could be scheduled on removing Maduro before his term ends in 2019.

Maduro's approval rating has plummeted amid economic woes. Recent polls suggest two-thirds of Venezuelans want him out.